Book Reviews

Book Review: The Gifts

By Liz Hyder

Publication Date: April 25, 2023

448 Pages

This is a difficult book to summarize since there are several distinct storylines woven through the narrative and it would take the entire review to touch on them all, even briefly.  In short, this book is an exploration between scientific discoveries and the unexplainable; about what man will do to advance his own interests.  About what happens when a woman miraculously transforms into an angel (well, the wings anyway – not a literal angel) and how society reacts to it.

What makes this book stand out is the characters.  There are several women featured with their own problems and agency, and the theme of gender roles in society (Victorian society) are really strong and exceptionally well done.  However, the stand-out character is Edward, not only for his own descent into obsession but also because he signifies the role of “every man” in this time period (and, to a large extent, well beyond it).  He embodies the men who saw women as weak and mentally and emotionally inferior.  He signifies progress and, ultimately, hubris.  He has a line in the book that struck me and sums him up.  I’m paraphrasing, but when his then-fiancé comments that she didn’t know he was interested in art, he says, “I’m a man of the times.  I’m interested in everything.” He tried to do it all, and failed spectacularly.  I didn’t like him, but he was an incredibly strong character.

“The Gifts” interpreted by Wombo Dream

However, this isn’t an easy book to follow in the beginning.  While the prologue is striking and definitely piqued my interest, I’m not sure if it was necessary since it’s something that happened during the story (maybe about 50% in?).  I would have been perfectly happy without it.  Each chapter is from a different character’s point of view (for the most part, see below) and they are so disparate, it was easy to get confused in the first several chapters.  I had no idea where any of these stories were going or how they would come together, but I trusted the author and she didn’t let me down.  The characters and their plotlines came together seamlessly.

My main criticism was structural.  While each chapter was nominally in one character’s point of view, really this was written in omni and probably should have stuck to a straight third person.  The omni pov didn’t flow and there was a lot of head-hopping, which wasn’t necessary, especially when I was treated to a random thought from the maid or cab driver. 

Although I was satisfied with the wrap up of everyone’s journey, there was never any explanation for why any of these women transformed, which is what drove the plot.  Rather, the story focused on people’s reactions to their change, but the rationale behind it is left up to the reader to decide and while I might have been disappointed with the author’s explanation, it would have been nice if there had been one at all.

Last words: A few things I would have done different but overall, an enjoyable read rich in historic detail.

3.75/5 stars ⭐⭐⭐+

Thank you to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Landmark for providing the ARC ebook.  I’ve left my review honestly and voluntarily.

Until next time, thank you for visiting.

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