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  • Writer's pictureEmily

Victorian Bears and Monsters

OK, these two books don't really have much to do with each other, except:

  • Victorian, British setting

  • really looooong

  • sinister, selfish characters vying for power

  • I read them both late this summer.

Miro, J. M.- Ordinary Monsters

Dickens, Charles- Our Mutual Friend

Ordinary Monsters

I had a hard time plowing through this book. After the first 300 pages, and considering that I recently DNF'ed several books, I made myself finish. It's like a kids' adventure series, but mostly told through the viewpoint of the grownups, and with more death. It's fine. If you like Victorian fantasy, magical kids, and having a hard time telling who's good or bad, you should have a look.

It's a bit like Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. It's about an institute that takes in magical children, the institute's employees and students, and an otherwordly menace. It made me sad and felt like the beginning of a trilogy (I haven't looked into that), so I think that lots of people will like this.

Our Mutual Friend

There are so many characters that there are several chapters of introducing people at the beginning. I'd say that for anyone who has read Dickens and liked it- you'll like this one. If you already know that you don't like Dickens- I'd give it a pass. I like some Dickens, and I loved this one. I first learned the story from a very good (as I recall) BBC miniseries that was on Masterpiece Theater in the 90s. What it boils down to is, an old miser who chased off both of his kids dies. His surviving son is to be called back home to inherit everything- if he marries a young woman that his father took a fancy to when she was a toddler. Then, as soon as he gets to England, he's found killed. It sounds like the ending to a very odd story, but it's just the beginning. There are too many characters to even name over the most important. When I finished it, I felt that three or four characters could have been cut out entirely. It could have been about 200 pages shorter. I think that it's possible that I'm past the age where I can get through a huge chunk of Victorian prose like this in less than two months.

I probably read this in about a week in college, in the summer vacation. I love A Christmas Carol so much that I want to read everything that Dickens wrote, but sometimes his female characters can be a bit grating. In this one, (SPOILER) a girl who is pretty open about being mercenary is reformed by having a long trick played on her, and I don't think I was nearly this annoyed when I read it before. Maybe because I knew from the movie how it would play out. But it is so irritating. One of these days, I'll re-read Bleak House (another that I read after seeing a good adaptation), and maybe I'll even take another pass at Hard Times. I still never have read the last, unfinished book. I'll probably read it.


First off, putting these two books together was a bit of a reach, I know, but no one is reading this blog, so why not indulge myself? And they aren't totally without similarities. One was written as a contemporary novel in Victorian times, and the other is a modern fantasy adventure set in the Victorian era. Also in both books, most of the troubles faced by the main characters is due to selfishness and duplicity.

In Ordinary Monsters, and this is going to give away alot so SPOILERS! Go to the next paragraph if you're going to read it! Magical kids in danger are being scooped up and sent to an institute to be kept safe. But once there, they become aware that they still aren't safe. The staff who are supposed to take care of them begin to understand that they are all being used. They are all in danger because they are being used by one man, someone they had all trusted.

In Our Mutual Friend, Dickens has selfish characters making a mess of other people's lives for jokes mostly. There's more than one example, but one scene that I remembered even from reading this book twenty years ago, was a conversation between a newly married couple in which they discuss how much each deceived the other about their finances. Each blames the other for the deceit. Even though they can't stand each other and only married for non-existent money, they are stuck together because divorce wasn't an option at the time, so they join forces to try to manipulate several other characters. It's not the same thing as taking advantage of magical orphans, but it's bad.

The Victorian era in fiction

I feel like, out of all of history, a third of historical fiction is set in WWII and another third in Victorian times, and the last third covers everything else. I'm far too lazy to attempt to study this and put numbers to it, so just assume I'm correct. What is it about this time? Gas lamps? Coal fires? Starving urchins? Don't get me wrong- it's fine, but if historical writers had to avoid these two eras in their fiction for a year, the genre might shrink to nothing.

Come to think of it, the Regency comes in for an outsized portion of the last third.

I don't read alot of historical fiction, but if anyone comes across this and would like to suggest a nice medieval or Edwardian or anything besides the three time periods mentioned above, could you leave a comment?

BTW, the "bear" in the title will make sense if you read/have read Our Mutual Friend.


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