Writer(s): W.M. Akers.
Publisher: Harper Voyager.
Format: Advance Review Copy.
Release Date: May 7th 2019.
Genre(s): Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Mystery.
My Overall Rating: ★★★★☆.
Have you ever been drawn by a book by the marketing behind it that casually compares it to authors or books that you have loved in the past with all your heart? While I remain skeptical most of the time, I sometimes land upon some that make the most tantalizing comparisons that I would have never imagined possible. From W.M. Akers, readers get to enjoy an unimaginable concoction of historical fiction, mystery, and fantasy in what is being praised as a story with hints of Caleb Carr’s ability to create vivid atmospheres and Neil Gaiman’s imaginative power. If you believe that I wasn’t sold already sold by the sound of that, let me tell you that the blurb made it all even more compelling, with little to no chance that I could ever turn my back on this little gem.
What is Westside about? Set in 1921, the city of New York finds itself split in two where violence and hostility reign in the Westside, while peace and prosperity conquer the Eastside. Following a young detective who specializes in “small mysteries”, the story begins with the case of a missing white leather glove that tosses Gilda Carr on a wild goose chase that leads her deeper into unknown territory with hints of bootlegging, smuggling and corruption at the heart of it all. Despite what she deeply desires, she finds herself stuck in a chain of questions and answers that lead her to uncover the truth behind herself, her parents and the city in which she lives. Uncovering the truth behind the mundane questions of the townfolks might have helped her avoid grief so far, but the things she’s about to discover will bring her to face the truth head-on, even if it means she’ll need to spill some blood along the way.
For a stand-alone novel, this story was a ride that never stopped for a second to allow the reader to take a breath. Not only is the world in which you’re immersed is mysteriously enchanting thanks to the unusual disappearings that let you believe that the night takes a life of its own when you least expect it, the story continuously dished out countless side-plots with little mysteries that kept you wondering what exactly was going on and who was responsible for everything. W.M. Akers’ portrayal of the city was also brilliantly handled and allowed the reader to feel like there were always eyes watching over your back as the heroine embraced her role as a private detective and challenged herself to the fullest throughout the whole story. After all, the things she dares to do, despite the adversity she faces, is quite impressive. The fast-paced story also turned out to be an advantage as it constantly fed the reader with backstory and clues to understand the bigger scheme at play.
Where Westside might have stumbled a bit was in the number of characters who were presented throughout the story. Although it might have been a bit excessive, it still kept the plot refreshing and dynamic as it gave the author room to work with more players and develop the various mysteries that crawled around the streets of New York. Let’s not forget to mention that even with the relatively huge number of characters, they all never seemed unidimensional or unnecessary. Their personalities simply shone despite the darkness in which they bathed. While they might evolve in accordance with the city, the city also seemed to transform according to its citizens. In fact, the time frame—especially how the author played with the Prohibition era—made this low-fantasy story just that much more intriguing and captivating, as it allowed the author to discretely play with historical elements.
Westside is a stylish and creative mystery that beautifully balances its fantasy elements with thrilling action scenes in a sinister and enigmatic alternate Manhattan.
Thank you to Harper Collins Canada for sending me a copy for review!