Fic­tion

The Hid­den Palace

  • Review
By – June 2, 2021

In 2013, Weck­er pub­lished her first nov­el, The Golem and the Jin­ni. It was an art­ful, immer­sive blend­ing of styles and tra­di­tions that cen­tered on Cha­va (a golem craft­ed as a mail-order bride) and Ahmad (a jin­ni with a pen­chant for iron­work­ing). At first blush, it might have seemed like a tokenis­tic minor­i­ty answer to mag­i­cal nov­els like Amer­i­can Gods and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Pecu­liar Chil­dren—Let’s write a his­tor­i­cal super­nat­ur­al dra­ma, but make it about Jews and Mus­lims!” — but, upon read­ing, the sto­ry pulled one in. Not mere­ly that: it made sense. Oh, there was dra­ma, there was romance, there were mag­ic spells and das­tard­ly vil­lains, but all of it exist­ed in ser­vice of a rich, smart sto­ry. The tit­u­lar golem fit. The jin­ni was real. The nov­el side­stepped our expec­ta­tions for both Romeo and Juli­et-type fatal­is­tic romance and for kitschy bagels-and-lox New-World lands­man stories.

Eight years lat­er (in our world), we rejoin Cha­va, Ahmad, and their sup­port­ing cast in The Hid­den Place. In sub­ject, tone, and pac­ing, the nov­el could be com­pared to one of its close cousins in the ancient-mythol­o­gy-meets-mod­ern-Net­flix-cul­ture realm of mag­i­cal real­ism. Leg­endary crea­tures? Check. Peri­od-accu­rate archi­tec­tur­al and loco­mo­tive details? Check. Long and wind­ing sen­tences in almost-but-not-quite Vic­to­ri­an cadence that descend into long, spi­ral­ing para­graphs? Uber-check.

How­ev­er, it’s also a close descen­dant of anoth­er kind of ser­i­al. Every time I pick up Dick­ens, I remem­ber how his works were orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in install­ments, how each would end on a cliffhang­er, whip­ping read­ers into a fren­zy that sent them back for the next chap­ter. Wecker’s chap­ters oper­ate on a sim­i­lar lev­el, weav­ing for­ward a grand but slow-mov­ing mas­ter plan through a vast tapes­try of char­ac­ters — from an upper-class daugh­ter of priv­i­lege set afire (both metaphor­i­cal­ly and lit­er­al­ly) by the jinni’s touch; to a teenage West­ern Union mes­sage boy; to a New World golem, cre­at­ed in the wake of the old one, with a dif­fer­ent mis­sion and a sim­i­lar exis­ten­tial cri­sis — teas­ing out a greater pic­ture we don’t see until the novel’s end.

Weck­er doesn’t give her read­ers an easy land­ing in her sequel; lengthy pages of expo­si­tion fill the read­er in with the sev­er­al hun­dred pages of plot they might have missed in the last book. But please don’t be deterred by that. If you missed the first nov­el last time around, take this tes­ti­mo­ny as encour­age­ment to pick up the first vol­ume. And, if you have schooled your­self in the ways of the tit­u­lar mon­sters, then please, please do invite your­selves to this next chap­ter of their existence.

Matthue Roth’s newest book is My First Kaf­ka: Rodents, Run­aways, and Giant Bugs, a pic­ture book, which will be released in June 2013. His young-adult nov­el Losers was just made a spe­cial selec­tion of the Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion. He lives in Brookyn with his fam­i­ly and keeps a secret diary at www​.matthue​.com.

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