Goodreads: Stalking Jack the Ripper
Series: Stalking Jack the Ripper #1
Groomed to be the perfect highborn Victorian young lady, Audrey Rose Wadsworth has a decidedly different plan for herself. After the loss of her beloved mother, she is determined to understand the nature of death and its workings. Trading in her embroidery needle for an autopsy scalpel, Audrey secretly apprentices in forensics. She soon gets drawn into the investigation of serial killer Jack the Ripper, but to her horror, the search for clues bringers her far closer to her sheltered world than she ever thought possible.
Stalking Jack the Ripper takes readers to Victorian England, where protagonist Audrey Rose is learning forensics and flaunting all societal standards. While the premise of the novel is a unique one, and Maniscalco has put clear effort into creating a world where people dabble with dark deeds and death to write a YA novel that stands out from the crowd, I ultimately thought the plot lagged.
Maniscalco takes an unsolved mystery and puts her own spin on it, but I found the solution to the mystery too obvious to guess too early in the novel, which was disappointing. There are a limited number of characters in the book to begin with, and both the jacket summary and the snippet on the back of the hardcover give even more painfully broad hints. Once you note this and account for some popular mystery tropes, it’s not difficult to tie everything together. I would have liked a more surprising outcome, or at least more of a puzzle. I also didn’t believe the Jack the Ripper character had particularly believable motivations or actions in many circumstances.
Beyond the mystery, the novel focuses on the life and personal development of protagonist Audrey Rose. The book jacket calls her a “remarkably modern Victorian girl,” and that’s apt, so modern it’s nearly grating and definitely anachronistic. I understand a lot of readers like anachronism; they want YA historical fiction heroines who break from the mold and do things they would not have actually been able to do in the time period. However, Maniscalco simply takes things too far. Audrey Rose does not only do remarkably modern things; she won’t stop explicitly stating how progressive she is! The book is speckled with multiple direct remarks about how men cannot control her, how she refuses to dress properly, how she wants women to have rights, how she has her own mind, how women are the same as men, ad nauseum. She has some decent points, but she won’t stop proclaiming them. She can’t even put on makeup without thinking,
“I dreamed of a day when girls could wear lace and makeup—or no makeup at all and don burlap sacks if they desired—to their chosen profession without it being deemed inappropriate” (25).
Or attend an afternoon tea without assuming all the other girls must be like her and want to talk about exciting, manly, scientific things:
“As the afternoon wore on, I watched them, noting the role they were all playing. I doubted any of them truly cared about what they were saying and felt immensely sorry for them. Their minds were crying out to be set free, but they refused to unbind them” (149).
Indeed, she is disappointed to learn they might actually be interested in the silly conversations they are having…yet remarks multiple times that of course she is allowed to be interested in both fashion and science! To think they are mutually exclusive would be absurd!
Basically, I tired of Audrey Rose early on, and none of the other characters saved the novel for me. I have seen other readers swooning over the love interest, but to me the romance was too quick and forced; I didn’t feel any real spark or chemistry. Audrey Rose and Thomas seem primarily to have their love of examining cadavers in common, and the fact that Thomas never bats at eye at all the supposedly scandalous things Audrey Rose does. Indeed, I would have liked to see someone be scandalized because Audrey Rose seems to be all talk on this front; she continuously points out how she’s breaking social conventions and destroying her reputation, but hardly anyone seems to notice or care. That makes it less believable and makes her seem less brave.
I almost DNFed this but carried on simply because I felt I could get through the book quickly, which ended up being true. My standard for books I want to DNF is two stars, so that’s what this is getting. Again, the concept is unique, and I think it could have been really great for a dark YA historical fiction, but never in the novel really worked for me.