The Tombs

Image result for the tombs deborah schaumbergFirst Lines: This must be how madness begins.  Traces of light or a shadowy haze around a person’s face, meaningless images in my head, and then the fear, the all-consuming fear that at any moment they will come for me.  For a long time I convinced myself that madness was not hereditary.  I may have been wrong.

Anything that combines historical fiction, madness, and a place called “the Tombs” is definitely on my to-read list for the sheer Gothic-quality of it all.  I didn’t know the history behind it at all, but that didn’t matter.  I was going to learn.

New York City, 1882.  Avery wishes for the life she had before her mother was taken away to the Tombs asylum for having unexplained visions.  Avery fears the asylum guards, men who wear terrifying crow masks and roam the streets from time to time.  But most of all, Avery tries to pretend she does not share the same strange visions as her mother.  Instead, she focuses on her job at an ironworks factory and keeping track of her usually-drunk inventor father.  She lives on the stories her friend Khan, an ex-slave, tells her, and the sight of her falcon Seraphine flying above the city.  But eventually Avery’s abilities cannot be contained.  When a freak explosion at the factory seems to have no cause except her, Avery is forced to run.  She must embrace her abilities or become another patient at the Tombs…a place where they’re conducting experiments on people and no one knows why.

I was pretty excited about this one because I love discovering debut novelists and because the combination of fantasy and a famous prison sounded interesting.  The story is billed as “Gangs of New York” meets Cassandra Clare.

The execution of the story left me a little wanting, though.

It took a very long time for me to feel like I even understood the story. It seemed like Avery’s story was missing vital parts for a long time as we were constantly left with “cliffhangers” at the end of each chapter. (I put that in quotes becomes sometimes they were clearly meant to create drama/misunderstandings and were resolved literally on the next page. It was cheesy.) Nothing felt like it was getting explained for the longest time. I still don’t know how people get these powers.

I did like the bits of history that were included. I don’t know much about 1800s New York (seeing as I don’t live there), so parts of that were interesting. I liked the stuff about the Tombs and the story’s surprising focus on unions and the plight of lower class workers and child labor. That was actually probably the best part, although it was little of the story overall.

I never felt like I got to really know any of the characters. They all seemed relatively flat, including Avery, our main character. There are just so many characters that Avery interacts with that we never see any of them consistently or see how they change. It just doesn’t happen. I’m a little bummed about that.

And the ending.  Oh my God.  It’s set up like it’s part of a series, but I can’t find any information that a sequel is coming.  It was hugely unsatisfying.

This book isn’t a total wash. There are some well written scenes and some very interesting characters, but overall I was hoping for more. Or maybe not “more” so much as “better.”

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