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Review: The Hidden Palace, by Helene Wecker

Hello dear reader and fellow Internet friends - apologies for being AWOL last week, was rather busy but I am now catching up on my reviews! And in a good way, it means I've had a chance to sit with a couple of books I wasn't very sure about, so the reviews coming your way this week will be more thoughtful and holistic than they would have been earlier.

So, really, my procrastination and laziness is a favour to you. You are welcome, you ungrateful brute.

Anyway. This book, The Hidden Palace, was the sequel to The Golem and the Jinni - and I very much hope that Helene Wecker isn't planning on making this a long-running series.

Not that I mean by that that it's a bad book - I just really don't like this penchant in modern-day literature for authors to turn a story into a series. It smacks of cash-grabbing to me, and I think is indicative of a desire to sacrifice what could have been an excellent standalone novel into a franchise. I realise that as an artist who does not rely on my art to make money I can be a snob about these things and maybe Sarah J. Maas cannot, but anyway. The Golem and the Jinni was a very beautiful novel, but I felt like the way that story ended was correct for the characters, and the ambiguity was enjoyable because it opened so many questions about how Chava and Ahmad would carry on with their lives post the events of the novel - and while I don't exactly feel like The Hidden Palace undercuts that, or takes away from how beautiful the first book was, I don't exactly think it adds anything particularly pertinent to the universe, either.

Also, there were some weird pacing issues with this one - it was a 470-page novel, but up until it hit about page 300, it just felt like a lot of exposition and wheel-spinning with secondary and tertiary characters from the first book that you'd forgotten about. There were a few too many storylines and character threads, and I think Wecker probably could have cut out the entirety of the Sophia and jinniyeh subplot and the novel would not have been poorer for it - in fact, I wanted to spend more time with Kreindel and Yossele, as well as Toby; characters introduced in this novel. Because Sophia was so far from the main plotline, both in substance and geography, she just felt like a holdover character whose story had already concluded and had been kept around for sentiment rather than because she was important.

But, like I said, this wasn't a bad book. The strengths that made The Golem and the Jinni so good were still here - magnificent characters, spellbinding world-building, magic that is completely logical within the rules of the universe itself, and a story that was epic in its sweep and narrative impact. I'm just not quite sure why this book needed to exist. I very much enjoyed reading it (once I decided to just sit back and enjoy the meandering build-up to the climax, that is), but I'm happy for this universe to now become a snowglobe and for Helene Wecker to try her hand at some different genre fiction.

So, that's my recommendation - read The Golem and the Jinni, for sure, but you can skip The Hidden Palace without missing anything (although if you do want a lovely piece of fantastical historical fiction with fairly low stakes, it is definitely good for that!).

Happy reading,

Amélie xx

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I’m Amélie, I love books and reading, and I also love talking about them.

I’m incredibly lucky to be bilingual, so I read books in both French and English, and will talk about both of those on here – although I will do more in English, since I know that’s probably what the majority of the people who ever find this blog will be interested in!

I also like history, traveling, Shakespeare, coffee, cheese, musicals, Italian Baroque art, the ballet, Mock the Week and Have I Got News For You, flowers, makeup, high heels, and baking. Yes, I’m a walking cliché. I am aware.

Please do tweet at me with any suggestions/book recommendations/thoughts.

In case you’re curious – yes, Pride and Prejudice is my favorite book of all time.

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