Two White Queens and the One-Eyed Jack by Heidi von Pelleske

I want to thank NetGalley and Dundurn Press for the opportunity to read this book. The title and description piqued my interest regarding its literary gothic feel, a splash of unique characters, friendship and romance, along with the setting bouncing from Lake Ontario to Germany.

The story is about two friends, Gareth and Johnny, and their journey into adulthood. When young, Gareth goads Johnny into climbing higher up a tree, Johnny accepts the challenge and falls, losing his eye and becoming cautious and self-conscious. Johnny receives a glass eye from an old friend of his mother’s from Germany, Siegfried, the ocularist. This ultimately boosts his confidence to where he sheds his old self and becomes Jack. Gareth, a gifted artist, struggles with the guilt of Johnny’s partial loss of vision and figuring out where his place is in life.

Tristan, Gareth’s brother, is also blind in one eye. Gareth is with Tristan at one of his eye doctor’s appointments and meets Clara and Blanca, the twin albinos, which leaves a lasting impression on him. Several other characters weave their way into the story, connecting themes of isolation, coming of age, quest to find oneself, good vs. evil, deception, and inner and outer awareness.

I enjoyed all the different German words and traits incorporated into the story. Jack’s mother, Hilda, is of the old world thinking, taking care of house and children while creating an assortment of homemade dishes and kuchen (cakes). She struggles with a distant husband and life in Lake Ontario while trying to forget the life she had in Germany, but falls in love with her old friend, Siegfried. Although trying to run away from her past, he’s the bond to the old country, which reminds her of the things she misses.

Clara and Blanca have white skin and hair and pink eyes like bunnies. Their downstairs neighbor teaches them both manners and music to which they become successful operatic/punk singers. Gareth and Jack meet these girls at a young age, and they’re affected for life because of their beauty and voices.

The author makes a wonderful connection between their voices and the Lorelei myth. The Lorelei is a rocky cliff on the banks of the River Rhein in Germany. The myth is about a woman, Lore Lay, betrayed by a lover, who stood on the cliff using her voice to lure men to their deaths. Clara and Blanca’s voices are like beautiful sirens, mesmerizing Gareth and Jack.

Before I get into why I didn’t like the book, I have to state that my reader version format was bad. I encountered several areas where paragraphs and dialogues were stretched out or bunched together, leaving me to wonder if there was some other formatting left out.

This brings me to the first issue. There was no indication from one paragraph to the next, who the narrator was talking about. One moment, I was reading about Gareth, and then the next paragraph was about Siegfried. Normally, there’s some divide or new chapter when it comes to a different character or event. This wasn’t the case throughout the novel.

Second, the POV is 3rd person omniscient, which means an unknown narrator knows everyone’s thoughts and actions. I dislike this POV because it feels like head-hopping and I’m detached from the characters.

Third, the book lacked character development. It’s an all ‘telling’ book with very little show and description. The most descriptive part of the book is when von Palleske dives into the ocularist’s world and the making of glass eyes. She spent a great deal of time on this subject, which I think could have been better-spent creating lively characters. They all fell flat to me. I didn’t connect with any of the characters, which means I just didn’t care about them.

The author would also reveal something about a character, such as a secret love without hinting to it in the book. There was no flirting with the possibility of a later reveal.

Plus, the story moved like chunks of characters’ lives plopped down in chapters instead of flowing from one year or decade to the next. I would read about Jack and Gareth, then the ocularist, Hilda, and Clara and Blanca. Next thing I know, years have passed and Jack is somewhere new or there is a big character reveal without any warning.

I think the author meant well in merging myth, events or character traits, but she took on too much. I think this is a book for anyone who enjoys this POV and doesn’t like too much description.

For me, I’ll have to give it 2 out of 5 bowls of popcorn.

Operatic/Punk and Glass Eyes,