The Hidden People, by Alison Littlewood

The Hidden People, by Alison Littlewood, opens with one of the brightest moments of the Industrial Revolution. The Exhibition at the Crystal Palace showed off the technology, innovations, and cultural splendor of the Victorian Age. Protagonist Albie Mirralls, however, only has eyes for his pretty, light-hearted cousin, Lizzie. Unfortunately for both of them, Albie’s father immediately separates the pair. Albie grows to become his father’s dutiful heir. Lizzie returns to the Yorkshire countryside and eventually marries a cobbler. The next thing Albie hears of his cousin, years later, is that she has been brutally murdered by her husband. The husband claimed that Lizzie had been replaced by a fairy and that he was only trying to get his “real” wife back.

Albie leaves for Yorkshire almost as soon as news arrives of Lizzie’s fate. He is determined, as one of Lizzie’s sole living relations, to find out how Lizzie came to be killed by her husband Jem. Albie is told by everyone in Halfoak and the nearby Kelpthorne (where the only law enforcement in the area is based) that Jem adamantly believes that Lizzie, the real Lizzie, will be back soon. The only thing he did was to destroy a changeling pretending to be Lizzie. Jem isn’t the only believer in fairies. Everyone in Halfoak believes in fairies. Albie is constantly warned that his cousin’s house is unlucky, that he shouldn’t look at the full moon, that cow colostrum should be left as an offering to the hidden folk, and that he should definitely stay away from Pudding Pye Hill, the highest hill in the area. To complicate Albie’s amateur investigation even more, his wife, Helena, arrives and refuses to leave until Albie does.

The Hidden Folk suffers from what I saw as a lurching plot. Albie’s meandering and increasingly unhinged thoughts are given a lot of room, while little space is given to Helena’s changing moods and motivations. The ending happens far too quickly, given how much time was given over to Albie’s to-ing and fro-ing around Halfoak. Generally, I enjoy an unreliable narrator but, mostly, I wanted to slap Albie so that he’d calm down. I think I might have liked this book more if Helena had narrated the story. She had a much more interesting character arc than Albie, I thought. Most of the time, Albie appears to be drowning in his ludicrous doubts about fairies and changelings. That he manages to uncover the subtle plot that led to Lizzie’s death seems like a miracle. There were too many problems with this book for me to buy into Albie’s story.

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