The Oversight by Charlie Fletcher is a nuanced, very well written, and surprisingly rich read that not only exceeded my expectations but also topped my list of best books of 2014. Characters are distinct and unique, the world building is superb, plot unique and engaging, and overall arc well plotted. I especially applaud that the author resisted the temptation to underwrite or overwrite, creating a balanced story in this first novel in the series.
Story: The Oversight are a secret group of individuals with unique mental gifts who have historically been the judge and executioner of fae who prey upon humans. But a disaster among their group reduced their numbers down to five – a “hand” – leaving them vulnerable. When a young girl with the hereditary gifts of their group appears at their door, she is immediately welcomed. But young Lucy has gaping holes in her memory and it becomes clear that things will soon come to a head for the Hand.
This story of Dickensian London features a wide cast of characters and is told through multiple POVs. Ordinarily, I find switching POVs to be distracting and unnecessary. But it is a testament to Fletcher’s writing skill that the multiple POVs actually improve the story. That’s because characters are not what they seem and what they do with one person is different to the personality they show another. Each character is extremely well formed, flawed and aware of their circumstances, with back stories given gradually and in small bites (i.e., no info dumps). I root for them even as I feel for their quirks and eccentricities. They feel authentic for early Victorian London and there was not one character whose POV I didn’t want to follow. Where the multiple POVs really succeed is that the intricate plot is allowed to start small, expand greatly, and then contract again near the end with a spider web of surprises and unforeseen intersections.
There are no vampires or werewolves. No faeries or pixies. The supernatural creatures aren’t evil, just sentient, and based upon English lore – Sluag, breathstealers, etc. The Oversight members have their own abilities to counter the creatures of the dark: mindreading, magical items/artifacts, compulsion, and the sight, to name a few. Yet none of the creatures or humans feel overly powerful – and each falls prey to the machinations of the other. I really appreciated that there are no speeches or grandstanding, no mustache twirling or chest beating. There is a very underplayed romance between two characters (think “Remains of the Day”) that we will likely see developed further in future volumes.
This first book in the series has a dedicated arc but with so much more to explore in further volumes. No character, moment, or paragraph is wasted – even if their relevance isn’t obvious at the point in which your reading (but will become exceedingly important near the ending). The story really caught my attention from the very beginning and kept me hooked throughout – the world is so incredibly realized, more than any book I’ve read in a very long time. The integration of the fae, supernatural, and even pseudo steampunk leanings are seamlessly integrated into the historical milieu. Even more interesting, a lot of the points, people, and items are rooted in fact/history.
I will be eagerly awaiting the next in this superb adult-oriented historical urban fantasy. My highest recommendations.
Reviewed from an ARC.