Special thanks to Rylee Warner at Spark Point Studio for providing an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review!
Reader, I Murdered Him
Publisher: Clarion Books
Pub Date: 11 October 2022
Genre: Young Adult Historical Fiction
The author of the visionary New York Times bestseller Dread Nation returns with another spellbinding historical fantasy set at the crossroads of race and power in America.
It is 1937, and Laura Ann Langston lives in an America divided—between those who work the mystical arts and those who do not. Ever since the Great Rust, a catastrophic event that blighted the arcane force called the Dynamism and threw America into disarray, the country has been rebuilding for a better future. And everyone knows the future is industry and technology—otherwise known as Mechomancy—not the traditional mystical arts.
Laura disagrees. A talented young mage from Pennsylvania, Laura hopped a portal to New York City on her seventeenth birthday with hopes of earning her mage’s license and becoming something more than a rootworker.
But six months later, she’s got little to show for it other than an empty pocket and broken dreams. With nowhere else to turn, Laura applies for a job with the Bureau of the Arcane’s Conservation Corps, a branch of the US government dedicated to repairing the Dynamism so that Mechomancy can thrive. There she meets the Skylark, a powerful mage with a mysterious past, who reluctantly takes Laura on as an apprentice.
As they’re sent off on their first mission together into the heart of the country’s oldest and most mysterious Blight, they discover the work of mages not encountered since the darkest period in America’s past, when Black mages were killed for their power—work that could threaten Laura’s and the Skylark’s lives, and everything they’ve worked for.
⚠️ CONTENT/TRIGGER WARNINGS
Sexual assault, physical violence, murder (on-page), sexual abuse (inferred/implied), parricide (on-page), death of parent (mother, off-page)
TL;DR: This was an interesting YA historical fiction about friendship, female agency and using privilege to exact revenge. The concept was really interesting and for the most part, I think Cornwell executed it very well. An uneventful first half and a certain emotional disconnect made this a slightly too slow read for me but overall, I really enjoyed the friendships, the complexity of our main character and the satisfying feeling of revenge well executed!
“It was a beautiful place. It was a prison.”
The title is what immediately drew me in and the synopsis is what really piqued my interest. I really enjoyed this concept and although there were some elements that, if done better, would’ve made me love this story, I still think the author did a great job with it. This was darkly entertaining and had some really great powerful moments.
Firstly, I want to point out that this book is about an original character from Jane Eyre. I’m one of the few who still hasn’t read it yet, so that didn’t impact my reading in any way, although it made me curious about how people who read and loved the book would feel about this ending. I will say that if you want to read Jane Eyre, you might want to skip this book until then because the first part of it essentially summarises the events of that story and would definitely be considered spoilers!
“My body and mind together had thrown off that weight, and I could not be anything by glad.
Reader, I murdered him.”
Cornwell set the atmosphere for this book very well! There’s a creeping sense of foreboding and darkness that steadily builds as the story progresses. From a young age, Adele has witnessed countless instances of the horrible ways women get treated by the people around them; particularly, by the men in their lives. She saw this in the way her mother and the other girls at Moulin were treated by their clientele, the way her father treated his first wife and herself, and then in the way the entitled society men treated all the women around them, especially her closest society friends. This story enraged me and I often found myself nodding in agreement because YES, there is so much about this story, regardless of the time period, that is so damn relatable and it’s devastating that it’s so.
“No matter how much a man might play the gentleman in daylight, a girl could never plcae her faith in what he became in the shadows.”
The story is told through Adele’s first-person perspective as she recounts the events of her life until the present day and she speaks directly to her audience, the reader. I didn’t mind this perspective but I admit that I thought it’d move the story along at a faster pace and that there’d be a stronger sense of emotional attachment/understanding. Sadly, I felt there was often quite an emotional disconnect between Adele and her story and that made it fall a bit flat (IMHO) but it also made the escalation of events less realistic.
That said, I did like Adele’s character. For most of her childhood, she was a silent observer of situations that most adults wouldn’t want children noticing and because of that, she develops a strong sense of people. She’s sharp, compassionate and kind but she’s also desperately lonely and has a jealous streak that she struggles with occasionally, especially when it came to motherly attention/affection. I particularly loved the camaraderie between her and the girls at the boarding school. Hannah, Felicity and Charlotte were the ones she was closest to and I loved the strong emphasis on supportive friendships and girls-supporting-girls. Pitting girls/women against each other is one of my least favourite tropes(?), so I was chuffed that all the relationships were very positive! It would’ve been even better if the secondary characters were given page time instead of simply serving as props to push Adele’s story along because she was doing all of this for them to begin with.
“In truth, beauty is a burden, Adèle: it keeps a man looking at your face, instead of into your soul.”
Another thing I found slightly underwhelming was the ending. While everything was ultimately neatly wrapped up, it felt very rushed compared to the rest of the book! I wish Cornwell spent more time expanding on Adele’s feelings about what happened rather than jumping straight into that “happy ending”. After all that she experiences though, Adele definitely deserved that ending! Overall, although I didn’t enjoy this as much as I had hoped to, I still thought the concept was excellent and I think the author did a good job of highlighting social issues through this story about murder and vengeance!
Have you read Reader, I Murdered Him or is it on your TBR?