Title: The City Beautiful
Author: Aden Polydoros
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Published: October 5th, 2021 (Inkyard Press)
Synopsis: Chicago, 1893. For Alter Rosen, this is the land of opportunity, and he dreams of the day he’ll have enough money to bring his mother and sisters to America, freeing them from the oppression they face in his native Romania.
But when Alter’s best friend, Yakov, becomes the latest victim in a long line of murdered Jewish boys, his dream begins to slip away. While the rest of the city is busy celebrating the World’s Fair, Alter is now living a nightmare: possessed by Yakov’s dybbuk, he is plunged into a world of corruption and deceit, and thrown back into the arms of a dangerous boy from his past. A boy who means more to Alter than anyone knows.
Now, with only days to spare until the dybbuk takes over Alter’s body completely, the two boys must race to track down the killer—before the killer claims them next.
Thank you to the publisher, Inkyard Press, and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
In the shadow of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, a killer is stalking the streets, targeting young Jewish immigrants. Alter Rosen, who recently immigrated from Romania, struggles to make a living while also trying to save up enough money to bring his family to America. But when his best friend and roommate Yakov is the latest victim of the killer, he gets caught up in a dark plot as Yakov’s dybbuk possesses him and begins to take over him entirely. The only way Alter will get out of this alive is to complete the task for which the dybbuk is lingering and turning to a friend from a past he left behind might be the only way to accomplish it. With each day, the dybbuk threatens to take over, and it’s a race against time for the two boys as they must track down the killer before there are any more murders.
The historical setting of the World’s Fair in Chicago made for a perfect backdrop for this mystery. It was quite interesting to read a book that had a Jewish main character that wasn’t related to WWII, and the author has shed light on the fact that persecution of Jews was not limited to the Holocaust. This is a time period I’m not as familiar with but the way it was all portrayed felt very real, from the exploitation of immigrant workers to some pretty extreme and horrifying anti-Semitism. On the other hand, there was so much about Jewish traditions, customs and faith woven into the story and it was so wonderful to read and learn more about this culture. The glossary at the end of the book with translations of the Yiddish words was so helpful too. This book starts out rather slowly, but by around the 30-40% mark, I was completely hooked and the murder mystery became more intriguing by the page, though it was much darker than I expected. I love how the author depicted the glamorous illusion of the World’s Fair with the reality beneath the surface being quite different and the more fantastical concept of a dybbuk possessing Alter fit right in alongside it all.
The cast of characters was interesting and likeable and I loved following Alter, Frankie and Raizel’s arcs. The story was narrated from Alter’s POV and the character development for both him and Frankie was excellently done, though I would have liked to see more of Raizel’s story as well. Despite the mystery being the core of the book, there is so much else going on that multiple perspectives could have added a lot.
I do feel though, that this book could have been a bit shorter. Some parts of the story definitely felt like it was dragging its heels until the next reveal came along, and there were a lot of unnecessary threads that diverted the attention from the main story to the extent that it takes nearly half the book for the information that we, as readers, know from the synopsis to show up on page and be confirmed.
The ending was a fitting and satisfying conclusion, and while I didn’t spot the clues ahead of time, I think that’s a good sign in this case, because I was so caught up in the story that I barely looked for them. If you decide to read this book, do take a moment to look over the content warnings, because this was much darker than I initially expected given the synopsis. Overall, this was an engrossing read, if a heavier one, and I would definitely recommend it!
The City Beautiful releases on October 5th, 2021.
Do you plan to read this book? Let me know in the comments below!