Trolls and goblins are usually side characters in someone elses story. The idea of them finally being given center stage in their own world and not cast aside as the monsters that go bump in the night intrigued me. There’s a lot of questions posed in the summary of The Night Girl about the current status quo of troll and goblin society, suggesting that while things have been running smoothly for years (centuries?) things are about to change – and it’s not going to be a quiet change.
In the middle of all this is a human, the protagonist Perpetua Collins, who appears to have ended up working for these supernatural creatures completely by accident. From the sounds of it she’s not had much choice about it either. Down on her luck and avoiding heading home in shame to what sounds like a horrible mother, this job has helped her stay in Toronto. The Night Girl seems to be Perpetua’s bildungsroman, telling her story just as much as it’s telling the story of the trolls and goblins.
The Night Girl was a fun read with an interesting premise, however, it fell short for me personally. If you’re looking for a humorous fantasy romp then this book has it all. From the opening sentences to one of the most inventive scenes with a piece of furniture, there are some really unique scenes in The Night Girl. As a protagonist, Perpetua is interesting and to begin with feels genuine, resembling a real person rather than a fictional one.
The problem is that as the novel continued Perpetua didn’t hold up to scrutiny. At the start, I was impressed with how she was portrayed as a woman attending interviews and having to contend with annoying and often ridiculous questions. Her reactions to interviews and job applications were completely on point, not over the top, but the right mixture of wariness and anger that women worldwide know all too well. Likewise, when she first becomes aware of the supernatural she doesn’t freak out. She doesn’t exactly take it in her stride, she just weighs it up practically; she needs a job and it’s a good job. There are a lot worse things out there and she knows that for sure because she interviewed for a lot of them!
This sort of attitude leads to her being championed as someone who “sees everything”, however, the further along the story goes the more the wool is pulled over Perpetua’s eyes. She is supposed to be so aware and yet she misses the most obvious information despite it being mentioned multiple times. These clues, given to her and the reader, are given too many times. I’m not sure if this book is intended for an adult or young adult audience (other books by the author have been YA), and honestly, I don’t think that should make a difference. I’ve read young adult books all my life and in my experience, a perceived younger audience does not require the author to drop more tips.
What started as a novel with brilliant opening sentences and great world-building just didn’t quite meet the finishing line for me. I still enjoyed the novel, hence the three-star rating, and for some people, a fun fantasy read is just what they’re looking for in a book. I’ll admit, I’m a little pickier and there was only so much nose wrinkling I could take by the protagonist before the author’s lack of ingenuity being able to find another response got irritating.
While the author gets big points for using Toronto as his setting (and I fully agree with the comment in his acknowledgements about fiction needing to spread its wings to more cities worldwide), I was also put off by the author’s use of Toronto’s homeless statistics as a plot device. The acknowledgements didn’t even mention that this was designed to bring the issue to attention. No, it’s all about being a proud Torontonian etc. etc. This is especially not a good look for a YA author, in my opinion.
Interested in more books by James Bow? Check out a selection of titles in my store.
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