*Review by Alexa*
Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord’s daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life.
Against her stern father’s wishes and society’s expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle’s laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.
Let me set the scene: I had just finished a trilogy that sank its claws into my brain and burrowed its way into my little black heart. I was, in fact, so overwhelmed with the wonderfulness of it that I was having trouble starting anything new. The idea of wading through world building or mythology was just too much, and I simply wasn’t ready to finish another series (I’m looking at you, Obsidio). Basically, I needed a palate cleanser, something easy and fun to refresh my brain before diving into a new commitment.
Enter Stalking Jack the Ripper. This book is, ostensibly, full of things I love: true crime? Check. Forensic science? Check. Feminism during the late nineteenth century? Check. This book seemed like a slam-dunk, a no-brainer, and all of those other clichés…unfortunately, I turned out to be very, very wrong. This book is, to put it bluntly, bad. There are a lot of issues with Ripper, but three of them truly bring the book down.
I had no idea my innards were composed of cotton and kittens, while yours were filled with steel and steam-driven parts.
First, the characters, specifically Audrey Rose Wadsworth (the protagonist) and Thomas Cresswell (her “love” interest), are unlikable and unoriginal. Audrey Rose is the titular strong, intelligent, and independent heroine who is actually confused, whiny, and unable to do anything successfully on her own. Her inner monologue is rambling, boring, and full of so many metaphors and analogies that it becomes utterly distracting. Around page 200 I started skimming those passages, and by the end of the book I was basically skipping them altogether. I don’t typically mind an unlikable MC, but there has to be some sort of redeeming quality, and Audrey Rose just doesn’t have a single one.
Runner up in the character category is Thomas Cresswell, Audrey’s love interest and sleuthing partner. Think badly done Sherlock Holmes and you’ve got Thomas Cresswell. Cresswell is, among other things, presented as being arrogant, rude, and forceful…which is somehow supposed to be charming because it’s all to mask an emotional trauma? Arrogant and rude are never charming, and I am really over this idea that these traits are acceptable and even desirable. Their romance was farfetched and, because they are both disagreeable tropes, I found myself truly not rooting for them to get together or solve the mystery.
There is not much to say about the plot other than it was predictable and boring. Despite the title, there was no stalking, and the sleuthing was minimal. For the most part, the characters—cough, Audrey Rose—bumbled into the clues with minimal effort. Even the forensic science was lacking and focused more on how “strong” Audrey Rose is for being able to get through it. The final reveal at the end was obvious from the beginning, and by the time Audrey Rose finallyfigured it out I was practically screaming it at her (yes, sometimes I yell at my books). I nearly DNF’d it after the first third, but mama didn’t raise a quitter, so I forged ahead in the vain hope the ending would redeem the book…it didn’t.
Roses have both petals and thorns my dark flower. You needn’t believe something weak because it appears delicate. Show the world your bravery.
A boring plot and bad characters are rough, but the real deal breaker for me was the lazy and sham feminism that the book presented. True feminism is intersectional, and this book is most definitely not. The one attempt the story makes at being intersectional is more of an issue than if the author had simply left it out. Audrey Rose is presented as being of mixed heritage because her mother is from India; however, this is barely mentioned and is used only to describe “honey colored skin” and the joys of naan (which is admittedly delicious). At no point is the enormously problematic history of British colonialism addressed, nor is her heritage conceptualized at all. Audrey Rose is the only fleshed out female character with all of the other women used as mere props. The victims are seen only as important in regards to how they relate to others (wife, mother, sister, etc.), and even then it is brought up only once. The majority of the female characters are upper class, like Audrey Rose herself, and are offered only as clichés that Audrey Rose can shame and judge in her never ending inner monologue. Do I agree with the agenda those women are trying to push on our protagonist? No, of course not, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a right to want it for themselves. Every time another female is presented, Audrey Rose judges them as being inferior to her, and that, my friends, is not how a true feminist behaves. These tropes are harmful and inaccurate, and are shameful in a book that is targeted towards young women.
Thomas smiled at my eye roll, puffing his chest up and standing with one foot proudly resting on a chair as if posing for a portrait. “I don’t blame you, I am rather attractive. The tall, dark hero of your dreams, swooping in to save you with my vast intellect. You should accept my hand at once.
Basically, this book was a big disappointment. Maybe my expectations were too high or I’m too demanding as a reader, but I really should have been an easy mark. I love all things Jack the Ripper (I even took the late night walking tour in London), and all I wanted was an easy, fun read. Instead I got clichéd characters, a boring plot, and problematic feminism. Next time I feel like a fun read involving a Victorian Era badass female detective, I think I’ll stick to Deanna Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell series (and I recommend you do the same).
Ok, that was a lot of tea to spill, and I hope you all stuck with me through it! Agree with me? Think I’m crazy? I would love to hear your thoughts!