I just finished the sixth and final book in the Oliver and Jack series by Christina E. Pilz and am now in mourning that the story is complete.
Sometimes, in a lengthy series, the final books can seem lacklustre and underwhelming. Even if the writing continues on a level of excellence, the story can sometimes fizzle out and be less than comparable to the earlier books.
Well, not in this case.
The three books following Fagin’s Boy (which I reviewed here), At Lodgings in Lyme, In Axminster Workhouse and Out in the World, carried the story forward with the two main characters facing further challenges but feeling more and more affection for each other, both physical and otherwise and I found the final two books in the Oliver and Jack series – On the Isle of Dogs and In London Towne) – to be riveting, revelatory and supremely satisfying.
Ms. Pilz’s unfailing ability to transport her reader to the streets and byways of 19th century London and environs is astonishing. She is able to convey the noise, the stench and, yes, the beauty of this unique setting with her eye for detail and the manner in which her finely drawn characters react to their surroundings. Her use of language, particularly, to show the difference between the social classes, is perfectly executed. Jack’s street-smart and profanity-laden dialogue contrasts beautifully with Oliver’s more polite turns of phrase in a way that keeps the characters quite distinct and beautifully contradictory.
I have to say that Pilz’s version of Jack Dawkins, the Artful Dodger, is one of the most vibrant and colourful character representations I have ever had the pleasure to read. I fell deeply in love with his expressive language, straightforward outlook on life, and ability to find pleasure and humour in even the most bleak of circumstances.
Pilz has a wonderful grasp of human psychology and how people react to traumatic circumstances. Her 19th century world is brutal in its veracity but the way these two characters struggle to survive and barely escape some horrible situations is a testament to the harshness of the Victorian reality and its rigid social structure. When addressing less-than-appealing events, Pilz manages to maintain a sense of delicacy and honesty that, while not shying away from important details, shows her characters’ great strength in the face of adversity.
In conclusion, a beautiful series written with a deft hand and sharp mind, presenting characters at odds with the times of their existence who nevertheless find love and laughter to carry them through until they can grasp their happy-ever-after, which is all the more special because of the trials they have endured to get there.