Booklist Review

The White Forest
McOmber’s arresting short stories in This New & Poisonous Air (2011) juxtapose fantasy, artifice, and brute reality. In his clever and beguiling pastiche of a first novel, McOmber further explores the nexus between the natural and the artificial, the intangible and the concrete in coal-fouled Victorian London, where poverty and spiritual hunger make possible the dark dominion of Ariston Day, a mystic and magnet for alienated young men. Drawn into Day’s baneful cult, wealthy heartthrob and Crimean War veteran Nathan has disappeared, alarming two rivals for his affections. Smart and unconventional Madeline is in exile, thanks to her artist father’s “unsavory daguerreotypes,” in Hampstead Heath, the spooky home of motherless recluse Jane, our unflappable narrator, who possesses otherworldly powers Day and Nathan covet. Jane can discern the souls of man-made objects and enter the White Forest, a terrifying parallel realm. Commandingly erudite and imaginative, McOmber meshes myth, the occult, and nineteenth-century technological advances in an uncanny and captivating gothic tale that aligns ancient mysteries with the startling revelations of newly harnessed electricity, and rigid social and sexual mores with epic yearning. —Donna Seaman