The Gifts

Written by Liz Hyder
Review by Pamela Schoenewaldt

A fascinating mélange of gothic fiction and magical realism, The Gifts unpacks the bizarre Victorian obsession with angels—celestial angels, the perfect domestic angel every man supposedly wanted in a wife, and the “alternate fact” that actual women could sometimes sprout actual wings.

Hyder interlaces the stories of four women in gritty 1840s London. Etta is the “exotic bastard,” daughter of an enslaved Jamaican mother and landowner father, a gifted amateur botanist. Mary, a brilliant young writer, sleuths out an angel-based crime, seeking to launch a journalistic career. Natalya comes to London seeking a kinsman and finds imprisonment with Edward, a crazed surgeon. Annie, a fine artist, is the bewildered wife to the surgeon. Imagine the astonishment when two of these women sprout wings. Edward embodies the frantic Victorian struggle to meld science with faith, to prove the existence of a God that has blessed Edward with (illicit) possession of anatomically correct female angels—how fortunate for Edward’s vaunting career ambition.

Hyder interweaves these stories in very short chapters, each a miniature jewel of world-building, unique characterization, and dramatic intrigue. The rapid flipping of point of view is a reader challenge—one doesn’t want to leave each woman—and requires holding distinct four plots in mind. However, as the novel barrels to conclusion, the reader’s utterly engrossed. The Gifts is Liz Hyder’s first novel for adults. Her 2020 young adult novel, Bearmouth, was chosen as the Children’s Book of the Year by The Times (UK).