The Jekyll Revelation is historical fiction that takes as its main protagonist Robert Louis Stevenson and immerses him in the mystery of Jekyll and Hyde peppered with Jack the Ripper. Robert Masello’s ability to immerse us into disperse storylines is enhanced by his turn of phrase and detailed research/knowledge of Stevenson’s life and times. Primarily, it’s a brilliant premise fleshed out into a clever story arc. Despite a few reservations, outlined below, it’s a good read.
When you begin the book, jumping between storylines can be fairly jarring which builds interest in seeing how they would come together. Both Robert Stevenson and Rafe Salazar are fairly empathetic characters whose connection is initially non-existent. Mr. Masello does a brilliant job melding historical events and characters into the story. His writing is accessible yet provides me with frequent vocabulary additions; for what it’s worth, it is relatively rare that contemporary authors provide significant fodder for my lexical treasury and rarer still to do so in a natural manner without feeling forced. While it’s initial pacing is slow, the journey is intriguing and the pace picks up towards the end.
[NOTE: I received an advance review copy of the book from Netgalley for an honest review.]
The main characters are not only well-developed but woven expertly into the story; others seem to present lost opportunities, especially Heidi with Miranda following closely behind. Heidi really doesn’t add anything to the story. There is a fair amount of ink spilled on Miranda that seems disproportional to her contribution. Even with the main characters, there are aspects that seem jarringly juxtaposed to other aspects of their character. Stevenson, for example, is often brave and willing to take risks to “do the right thing.” He often seems a bit a slow on the uptake and self-serving, at least in dealing with Lloyd. Rafe is slow as well, with his risk-taking ability ebbing and flowing in every scene. You might argue that makes the characters more human and believable. For me, it just didn’t seem to fit.
There are other extraneous elements. For example, the wolf that is set in the contemporary storyline. You’ll get the author’s motivation for placing him there but that’s the last aspect of the wolf that makes sense. Who he is, how he became present and his tie into any of the characters remain mysteries. There’s some potential theories but Mr. Masello not only doesn’t explain his presence, he provides no plausible ties. Another challenge for Mr. Masello is that his villains are weak with an exception late in the game. Finally, the marriage of the two timelines seemed forced and slight reward for the large build-up throughout the novel. Fortunately, the clever manner in which he weaves historical facts of Stevenson’s day into the story outweigh these challenges.
Things I loved
- A clever premise
- He provides good phrasing with an extensive vocabulary
- He clearly has done his research and, hence, nicely melds the narrative to the known facts of Stephenson’s life and times.
Things of which I was less fond:
- Robert Louis Stevenson was the most empathetic character of the book and yet so often he act in ways seemed a bit daft and self-serving. For example he was too often more concerned about his stepson and protecting him then those who stepson injured or killed
- The bad guys were somewhat feeble. While certainly depraved and dangerous under the elixir they simply didn’t have enough forethought in planning their evilness directed at either Stephenson or Rafe.
- I like the idea of two disparate timelines that finally merge the modern timeline. It felt a little artificial. Yes, that’s how we finally learn the story and it all comes together, but there’s so much time spent in the current timeline that really doesn’t tie into the main thrust of the story. There also seem insurmountable technical challenges like an elixir that remains in semi-liquid form more than a century under less than ideal circumstances.
- The wolf in the contemporary timeline is utterly extraneous – the argument here would contain spoilers.
While I read most of the book on my Kindle, I did listen to a sizeable part on Audible. Christopher Lane’s narration was apt, well-paced and especially brought Stevenson to life with a passable (yet fully understandable) Scottish burr. Mr. Lane’s performance adds to the story.
While I liked the overall premise of the story and there were certainly moments where the execution was really good, I must admit to some letdown. I never connected with the lives of the characters, outside the two main protagonists. So it’s a good story, worth reading, but did not, at least for me, soar to being a great novel.