Melissa Bailey’s The Medici Mirror is a novel about an architect, Johnny Carter, who discovers a mysterious mirror in a secret room under the Victorian show factory that he is renovating. The mirror fascinates and worries both Johnny and his assistant Tara, and Johnny’s new girlfriend Ophelia is sucked into its influence as well.
The Medici Mirror sounds like an interesting historical mystery; I think time-slip is the correct term, including sections in the past and present. And overall, that is exactly what it is, but unfortunately there are flaws. In the context of the time-slip storyline, the issue is that the sections from the past just don’t fit in. They bear very little relevance to the present-day main storyline, and are only there to explain why the mirror has such a dark aura about it. However, that information is also presented in a more succinct form by the present-day characters, and so the sections about Catherine de Medici are rather superfluous and a bit of a waste of space. I felt they should have been tied in to the main storyline much more.
The storyline itself is reasonably predictable – mysterious object from the past turns up, everyone starts feeling a bit odd, leading to a dramatic showdown. Perhaps the most interesting element of the story is the investigation into a death and disappearance in the Victorian heyday of the factory, which seem to have been related to the secret room. This adds in another dimension to the story, and gives a bit more depth and interest.
As for the characters, this is where the novel really failed to impress me. I quite simply didn’t care about them. I felt no sympathy for Johnny or Ophelia, I didn’t particularly like them, and I didn’t care whether the mirror ruined their relationship or not. Although we learn something of their pasts, both of which are troubled, I felt the characters were one dimensional, relatively selfish, and completely unendearing. I didn’t mind Tara, there was a bit of spark there, but she was more of a supporting character. With a novel like The Medici Mirror, where you can assume from early on (and from the blurb on the back) that the characters are going to end up in danger, you need to care for them, you need to feel a bond so that you can root for them and so that you feel the tension of the final showdown. Bailey has failed with her characters.
Unfortunately I didn’t enjoy the writing style either. Despite there being a reasonable amount of information given, and the language used being appropriate, I found it very simplistic, and I think this is largely due to the fact that it is narrated in first person by Johnny. It is very straightforward and factual, and sometimes even comes across as stilted. I picked up little or no emotion or feeling from the narration, and this of course contributed to my ambivalence towards the characters.
I was very disappointed with The Medici Mirror. I don’t think I ever expected it to be brilliant, but I expected an enjoyable and exciting tale, and while it had all the ingredients for this, it simply fell far short of the mark.
The Medici Mirror by Melissa Bailey
Published by Arrow Books, October 2013
Many thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy.
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