Book Review: The Singular & Extraordinary Tale of Mirror & Goliath

The Singular & Extraordinary Tale of Mirror & Goliath
By Ishbelle Bee

Not My Edition:
Paperback, 325 pages
2015, Angry Robot
ISBN: 9780857664426

Mirror was trapped in a clock by her grandfather and came out as something more than human. She wanders England with her shape-shifting guardian, Goliath. When they encounter the evil Mr. Fingers and his “son” Mr. Loveheart, they must tread carefully, because Mr. Fingers is after Mirror’s soul.

This book is hard to summarize, because of the threadbare plot and vague, dreamlike (nightmarelike) prose. Had I not been told about this book by a friend and stumbled across it on my own in the bookstore, I’d be lured in by the gorgeous cover art and the seemingly middle-grade premise. The cover and the chapter headers are the best part of this book however.

As you can see, I had a lot of issues with this book. I couldn’t have tabbed all my annoyances because then there would have been more tabs than pages. Warning: Rant Approaching!

This book. It’s a polished turd. A glimmering bit of fool’s gold, shimmering like bright faerie lights. But when you pick it up, the plot and characterization crumble to dust in your hands like burnt moth wings. The weak plot, like a newborn deer tottering on fragile stick legs unravels quickly like so much glittering gold thread, spun by Rumpelstiltskin. The characters are cardboard, dull and grey like storm clouds who’ve decided not to storm. The story is a fever dream of bad imagery, vile like demon’s eyes. The genre is a harlequin mask, shining and deadly. But beneath the middle-grade veneer lies a muddle mess of childlike character names, playful and safe like a dandelion, marred by young adult themes, briefly violent like a car crash you didn’t see coming. Marketed as an adult horror novel, but it’s a lie, like the faerie feast happened upon in the faerie forest, where the food turns to ash in your mouth. The ash of the aforementioned burnt moth wings.

Are you tired yet? Good, me too. That’s what it felt like to read this damn book.

The writing is so tortured – it reads like the first draft of some bizarre, overwrought nightmare. It’s a jumble of vague images, like Bee thought up a bunch of one or two liners that sounded cool to her and then she smashed them together into a “story.” I tabbed 6 weird analogies (similes, metaphors, whatever) in the first 4 pages, and those are just the ones that stood out the most. The book includes many “gems” such as:

“…Goliath arrives like a star falling and imprinting the surface of the earth. THUD he has landed. A galactic footprint. The moon a stage light for his materialization onto the Liverpool docks.”
“He deposits us on the docks with a wink and a crooked smile; like a demented midwife, delivers us straight from the sea.”
“…great splodges of water fall into my eyes and Goliath’s beard, disappearing like pearls thrown into a wild forest.”
“London, city of poisoned water, sour milk, fish stink and shit. Blood bubbles and drips down the thighs of her.” This is by far one of the grossest analogies I’ve heard.
Followed by: “He smelled of spermy things.”
“The smell of hot water bottle fur and his great heart beating lull me asleep.” Okay, seriously, what the hell does hot water bottle fur smell like!?
“The darkness spreads out before me like a roll of carpet to stuff Cleopatra in.”
“He smiled, a smile of a thousand cats.”
“I am a nasty thing and mad as scissors.”
Mirror describing Loveheart:  “You are stuffed with hearts. They burst out of your eyes, fall to your feet like severed heads. Your guts are red ribbons. Your heart is a rose.”

To add to the ridiculous flow of the story, no color is ever just a color. If it’s green, it’s frog green. Or gold is fairy (which she also spells faerie) gold, twinkling and shimmery. While this doesn’t ordinarily bother me, it’s incredibly annoying when used every time a color is mentioned.

“The sky is the colour of porridge and the sea, a miserable treacle black.”
“It had eyes like magic beans, dark and chocolatey…”
“….for my eyes were black. The colour of dead things.”
“It was big and cool and blue like suicide.” This one really had me like ?_?

When she wasn’t busy filling in the gaps with “tick-tock, tickety-tock, clock!” Bee also had some fun dicking around with fonts and word placement; filling a page with the word bitches, or another with weird heart symbols. Meanwhile, the lack of plot ran rampant and left me wondering what the point of the book was. Halfway through, the main timeline is thrown out the window and we’re taken back in time, forward in time, dragged around through various new character POVs that were sadly indistinguishable from any previous chapters because every character had the same voice.

I was left with many questions, and not in an intriguing manner. Mirror’s abilities or non-human attributes are never really discussed, random characters that have no real impact on the story are given chapters that felt completely irrelevant, readers are never enlightened as to why her grandfather shoved her in a magical clock to begin with or what he hoped to achieve by doing so.

The genre is just as confusing as the plot. For the most part it reads like a middle grade book, especially with character names like Loveheart, Mr. Fingers, Pomegranate (a terrible reimagining of Persephone), Doctor Cherrytree, Mr. Chimes (a clockmaker of course), and Goliath Honey-Flower. The language is pretty basic, until Bee decides things needed to be spiced up and throws in some swearing, or a few quick scenes of violence. Nothing overly graphic, just Loveheart abruptly shooting someone in the face, or lopping off someone’s head with his sword. This would I guess elevate it to a YA book, yet Mirror is only randomly transformed into a 16-year-old halfway through the book (yep) and I don’t know that there’s anything about her that teens could relate too. I thought perhaps her age was accelerated to facilitate some sort of romance with Loveheart, but even that didn’t happen. To top it all off, this book is apparently marketed as adult fiction!? I’m utterly lost…

I don’t even know why I finished this book. I mean, I read it over two days, so it wasn’t a huge timesuck, but really. It’s too early to call it, but I would bet money that this ends up in the number one spot of my Worst Reads of 2016 list.

But here’s a couple pictures of the good parts of the book, the design elements:

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