(Not to harp on the cover too much, but really, would you guess from the photo that this book is in part a retelling of The Snow Queen set in an alternate 1938 in which, due to Napoleon’s win at Waterloo 120-plus years before, there is an entirely different political landscape, an organization that churns out Stepford-esque secretaries to aid the war effort, Oscar Wilde is a famous obstetrician, and Our Heroine is at the Center of it All? Yeah, I didn’t think so.)
At any rate, the reread wasn’t entirely necessary, but I was glad I’d taken the time to do so. Invisible Things begins with enough background into Sophie’s world so it’s possible to catch up, though Davidson condenses The Explosionist’s events into a few pages, resulting in a fair amount of unrealistic expository dialogue. I may not have been nearly as enthralled had I not read the first book.
As Invisible Things unfolds, Sophie, having escaped a Stepford Secretarial Fate in Scotland, is living at the Institute for Theoretical Physics in Denmark with her friend Mikael and his family. This living arrangement proves difficult for Sophie, a refugee in the home of her future-or-maybe-even-possibly-current-but-she-doesn’t-know-because-they-haven’t-talked-about-it beau. It’s a tension set up beautifully by the fact that we witnessed her changing feelings toward Mikael in The Explosionist. Davidson makes sure that we’re not just aware of Sophie’s feelings here—we feel them, too.
That is a minor example of the major issue I have with Invisible Things. While the book is clearly being marketed as a stand-alone novel, it doesn’t work that well as one. It lacks the richness, depth and subtlety of its predecessor. Part of the The Explosionist’s appeal was the sedate pace of the world-building and the excellent sense of place. While reading it, I would often forget how different Sophie’s world was—lulled by the normalcy of skiving off gym class or being irritated by the awful Harriet Jeffries—until a small, or large, detail of her everyday life would jolt me into remembering.
In Invisible Things, a good 200 pages shorter, events happen quickly and weeklong trips are completed in mere pages, with hardly any time for Sophie to do what she does best—observe and reflect.
That isn’t to say that Invisible Things doesn’t have any of the fabulously entertaining descriptions that pepper The Explosionist. There’s more than a page about a table of cakes that had me drooling (I wanted to eat ALL OF THEM) and moments of loveliness like:
He had a charming long face like a dyspeptic turtle, with a slender build and a patina of formality to his manners that made Sophie suspect him of being privately quite sarcastic.
My recommendation? Read The Explosionist. If it’s your cuppa, then I definitely advise you to read Invisible Things. Despite my reservations, I quite enjoyed it. I’m very much invested in Sophie’s story, and I’m rather dying to know what happens next. (I admit that I have a slightly ulterior motive—I’d love to talk to someone about the parallels to Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass (1995)! Then you can join me in waiting for the next installment.
When she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is probably curled up by the woodstove, reading.