In 2013, Wecker published her first novel, The Golem and the Jinni. It was an artful, immersive blending of styles and traditions that centered on Chava (a golem crafted as a mail-order bride) and Ahmad (a jinni with a penchant for ironworking). At first blush, it might have seemed like a tokenistic minority answer to magical novels like American Gods and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children—“Let’s write a historical supernatural drama, but make it about Jews and Muslims!” — but, upon reading, the story pulled one in. Not merely that: it made sense. Oh, there was drama, there was romance, there were magic spells and dastardly villains, but all of it existed in service of a rich, smart story. The titular golem fit. The jinni was real. The novel sidestepped our expectations for both Romeo and Juliet-type fatalistic romance and for kitschy bagels-and-lox New-World landsman stories.
Eight years later (in our world), we rejoin Chava, Ahmad, and their supporting cast in The Hidden Place. In subject, tone, and pacing, the novel could be compared to one of its close cousins in the ancient-mythology-meets-modern-Netflix-culture realm of magical realism. Legendary creatures? Check. Period-accurate architectural and locomotive details? Check. Long and winding sentences in almost-but-not-quite Victorian cadence that descend into long, spiraling paragraphs? Uber-check.
However, it’s also a close descendant of another kind of serial. Every time I pick up Dickens, I remember how his works were originally published in installments, how each would end on a cliffhanger, whipping readers into a frenzy that sent them back for the next chapter. Wecker’s chapters operate on a similar level, weaving forward a grand but slow-moving master plan through a vast tapestry of characters — from an upper-class daughter of privilege set afire (both metaphorically and literally) by the jinni’s touch; to a teenage Western Union message boy; to a New World golem, created in the wake of the old one, with a different mission and a similar existential crisis — teasing out a greater picture we don’t see until the novel’s end.
Wecker doesn’t give her readers an easy landing in her sequel; lengthy pages of exposition fill the reader in with the several hundred pages of plot they might have missed in the last book. But please don’t be deterred by that. If you missed the first novel last time around, take this testimony as encouragement to pick up the first volume. And, if you have schooled yourself in the ways of the titular monsters, then please, please do invite yourselves to this next chapter of their existence.