Greetings, Seekers! I (Jonathan) have been traveling a lot for work of late. A positive side effect of all those flights is more time to read. With that established, here’s my spoiler-free review of the last book I finished: Even Though I Knew the End, by C. L. Polk. Please keep in mind that this is just my opinion and you may vehemently disagree with it at your leisure.
Genre: Noir fantasy
Overview: A detective with magical powers races against time to win back her soul, and with it, secure a future with the woman she loves. Set in 1930s Chicago.
My Rating: 4.0/5.0
Let me start by saying this is a novella, not a full-length novel as I imagined. Even Though I Knew the End is only 133 pages long (not counting acknowledgments and publishing fluff). Its slimness took me aback when I picked it up from the library, but those modest dimensions are a boon when space is at a premium in your luggage. That also made this a pretty quick read for me. By the time my 2-hour flight to Denver landed, I had finished the book, which should tell you how engrossed I was by it.
So, what made this book so magical to me? Let’s start with the poignant way the author portrays what it meant to be a woman in love with another woman in 1930s Chicago. From secret clubs filled with women in tailored suits to a sanatorium where the same women were subjected to electroshock ‘aversion’ therapy to ‘correct’ their aberrant attraction, Polk has captured a slice of history in brilliant and at times heartbreaking detail. Let me also pause for a moment and acknowledge how wonderful it is to see a work of sapphic fiction find a home and success with a mainstream publisher. Helen (the main character) and Edith’s story reminds me of the price that was paid so that the contemporary LGBTQ+ could enjoy the acceptance it does.
Polk also does a masterful job of engaging the senses. Their descriptions of buildings in particular stood out. I was able to imagine the decaying splendor of the building that housed Helen’s office with little difficulty. Details about the floor materials and architectural touches placed the story firmly in the post-Depression era. They also nailed taste. I’m none too fond of whiskey, but the way they described it made me want an old fashioned pronto. The writing talent displayed in this novella is truly exceptional.
If there’s one area where the story stumbled for me, it was in the supernatural elements. They lacked originality. I couldn’t help but draw parallels between Helen’s character and John Constantine. The urban setting mixed with demons and the occult brought to mind the anime series Trese. And the appearance of the term ‘Nephilim’ induced a proverbial eye-roll. I blame The Mortal Instruments for my intellectual fatigue with that concept.
In summary, Even Though I Knew the End is a well-executed gem. The pacing, character development, and description is spot on. You will root for Helen and love Edith and perhaps be seduced by Marlowe. For those in search of a quick read who enjoy murder mystery and period pieces, look no further. And, if you enjoy Polk’s writing, check out her full-length fantasy series The Kingston Cycle.