The Oversight by Charlie Fletcher (Orbit, May 6, 2013)-The Oversight is one of those books that, about two pages in, I knew I was in for something good. It begins with an excerpt from The Great and Hidden History of the World by Rabbi Dr. Hayyim Samuel Falk, detailing the function of the Free Company known as The Oversight of London, specifically in protecting innocent humans from the actions of untoward supranaturals. The Oversight has always been manned by people with both supranatural and human blood, so that they may better understand the kinds of beings that they are sworn to protect the human population from. So it begins that a young girl is brought to The Oversight’s Safe House in a sack, mouth covered and hands wrapped, by a man who has been told that the proprietor of said headquarters would pay a pretty penny for young girls. Sara Falk, head of the last Hand of the Oversight, is looking for no such thing, but she finds out that the young girl in question, Lucy Harker, is much like her, and vows to protect her. Lucy’s arrival, however, seems to be the catalyst for bad things to come, and Mr. Sharp, Oversight sentinel and Sara’s protector (whether she likes it or not), is suspicious of Lucy’s arrival from the beginning. He’s right to be suspicious, because there are those that know that the once hundreds strong Oversight is now only five, and they are looking to not only destroy them, but take for them a key that could shift the balance of power in a profound way. Soon, Lucy is separated from the Hand and tragedy befalls Sara. Mr. Sharp is determined to make Sarah whole, even if it threatens their entire existence, and Lucy must make her way amongst a traveling carnival that hides its own dark secrets.
Victorian England is one of my favorite settings for a novel, especially one involving magical things, of which The Oversight has plenty, and although the setting is wonderful, it’s the characters that make this book a standout: a pair of villains that have many “sons” that they’ve procured from the local orphanages, creating a network of eyes and ears all over London, the creepy Slaugh with which the villains have entered into unholy alliance, a breath-stealer that stalks its unwitting victims in the shadows of an unsuspecting city, and of course, the Hand themselves, consisting of Sara Falk, Mr. Sharp, Cook, Hodge, and the Smith. There are magic mirrors, a golem named Emmett that protects our heroes, and so much more. Fletcher’s London is something I pictured out of a Tim Burton movie, with overhanging gables, crushed together buildings, and precariously uneven skylines, and of course, characters I absolutely fell in love with.
This is a book to be savored, and its secrets are revealed slowly and deliciously, entrenching you more and more into a Dickensian, delightful world. Will our heroes survive such diabolical evil with their numbers so utterly diminished? Will Lucy, so lost and unsure of her past, find a semblance of herself, and will she do it in time to thwart the powers that mean to possess her? The ending settles a few things but leaves plenty open for another book, and I can’t wait to get to know The Oversight better, not to mention go back into the wonderful world that Charlie Fletcher has created. The Oversight is a clever, entrancing, and of course, magical read, with plenty of surprises. Don’t miss this one.