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Review: Hand of Miriam

Hand of Miriam audiobook cover. An attractive woman in pseudo-Victorian dress emerges from the ruins.
Hand of Miriam by Eva Gordon.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐
Duration: 10 hrs 36 mins. 

Hand of Miriam, a Bayla and the Golem novel, Volume 1 by Eva Gordon is an action-packed, Steampunk-y, paranormal romance with its roots in Abrahamic mythology.

Audible Summary: On an archaeological expedition, Bayla Gideon, is widowed by a supernatural force and branded with the Hand of Miriam or "knowing eye". Threatened by evil, she awakens the golem - a mythical man of clay who protected the Jewish community more than three centuries ago.

The golem, Gesher, is surprised. Freedom - by a beautiful, enchanting woman. His desire is to return to the celestial spheres and regain his status as an avenging angel. Yet Bayla challenges his mind, body, and soul. Would he risk his return to the heavens for her? 

Besides dealing with the otherkind, mad inventors, and an unrelenting matchmaking aunt, Bayla is equally determined to resist her steamy attraction to the striking fallen angel. Thrust into a malevolent war, which includes facing Jack the Ripper, they must resist the magnetic pull toward each other while protecting the world from encroaching evil.

I was very unfamiliar with the myths upon which many of the characters and storylines in this book were based, so I was starting from a position of shameful ignorance and insatiable curiosity (much as I approach most things!). I have listened to a few steampunk books now, though, with my favourite by far being Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series, which also blends action and fantasy with feisty heroines and romance. So I began listening to this books with high hopes for the genre and a keen interest in learning more.

I loved the premise, containing as it did so many things that I enjoy in a novel; archaeology, mythology, steampunk, the supernatural, Victorian London, a Ripper investigation, a bluestocking heroine, and a forbidden love story. And I did enjoy each of these elements, but sometimes the pace galloped onwards so swiftly, with so much going on all at once, that it felt a bit rushed and as if many of the ideas weren't used to their full potential.

For example, the story skips over the interesting bit at the beginning where Bayla discovers the extent of her powers and new sight, and begins working with the police department. It cheats us of six crucial months and a dramatic shift in circumstances, and would - in my opinion - have played an important part in helping the listener build a relationship with Bayla as she took her first tentative steps into her new life.

Similarly, I didn't feel the relationship building properly between Emmet and Bayla for much of the book because of the way it raced along. We were often 'told' they desired each other but it sometimes felt like an observation rather than demonstrable, affecting emotion. The intimate scenes were also a bit flat; I think perhaps the author was unaccustomed to writing them, and the narrator did not inject them with the necessary passion, frustration, and longing.

I did like the strong foundations this audiobook had in Jewish culture and mythology. It was fascinating and gave it a distinctive character that helped set this book apart from other Steampunk novels and Ripper-reimaginings.

However, I found that unless I was paying attention to every moment it was easy to get tangled up. Sometimes mistaking one character for another, but also because there is often very little indication of switches between dialogue and internal monologue. Trying to do other things while listening (usually a key benefit of audiobooks over print) was impossible with this book.

The slightly confusing narration wasn't helped by sometimes-clumsy sentences. "Was she flirting with him [the Count]? If he [the Count] touched her then he [Emmet] didn't know what he [Emmet] would do." and "she shielded her eyes with her hand from the sunlight". I feel that this book would have greatly benefitted from a firm, experienced editor to help refine it.

I also believe that it would have been far better with a different choice of narrator. The current narrator, Doro Jillings, has a nice tone to her voice despite the unfortunate lisp, and had an expressive manner, finding a suitable voice for Bayla. Her male voices, however, sometimes lacked distinction during conversations between them, which made it confusing. They were often in need of some masculine resonance - such as one would expect of Emmet's voice, which did not achieve the seductive depth the text claimed it should have.

Jillings read this audiobook very well but did not perform it with the life and vigour that such a fast-paced story really needed. There was a lot about her narration which was very good, but I felt as though it was not the best match for this particular audiobook.

Overall, I really liked the characters and the world they inhabit, and was keen to explore the secret societies, the subtypes of Other Kind, and how the celestial and mythological elements were woven into the story.

I enjoyed many of the ideas in this book and was intrigued by the set-up for future stories (such as the one involving Bayla's naturalist friend with a long-lost Explorer father). With the right narrator and a polishing edit I think it could have been much more compelling, but it was still enjoyable and I would give another book in the series a chance to see how it settles in as the characters develop.

I'd recommend it to listeners who enjoy urban fantasy with a steampunk twist, as my disappointment with the narrator may not be an issue for others and there was enough of merit to be worth giving the series a try.

*I received this audiobook free of charge in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.

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