Today I’m thrilled to have a guest post by Katherine Addison to share with you! She’s the author of some of my most treasured fantasy books, The Goblin Emperor and the Doctrine of Labyrinths series, and she’s here to discuss the inclusion of Jack the Ripper in The Angel of the Crows, her latest fantasy novel. The Angel of the Crows is out in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook on June 23 (tomorrow!)—and I also have two hardcover copies to give away to two North American residents, courtesy of Tor Books!


Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison - Book Cover
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Katherine Addison, author of The Goblin Emperor, returns with The Angel of the Crows, a fantasy novel of alternate 1880s London, where killers stalk the night and the ultimate power is naming.

This is not the story you think it is. These are not the characters you think they are. This is not the book you are expecting.

In an alternate 1880s London, angels inhabit every public building, and vampires and werewolves walk the streets with human beings in a well-regulated truce. A fantastic utopia, except for a few things: Angels can Fall, and that Fall is like a nuclear bomb in both the physical and metaphysical worlds. And human beings remain human, with all their kindness and greed and passions and murderous intent.

Jack the Ripper stalks the streets of this London too. But this London has an Angel. The Angel of the Crows.

Why Jack the Ripper?

Jack is not the first serial killer, or even the first “modern” serial killer, but he’s the one we remember. There are several reasons for this, but one of the most important ones is his name. Not “the Whitechapel murderer” but “Jack the Ripper.” Someone was very cunning when they came up with that name. It’s short, punchy, imagination-catching. And the idea of a serial killer writing to the newspapers was new.

To be clear, I don’t think the Whitechapel murderer wrote the letter that starts “Dear Boss.” I don’t think he wrote any of the letters the police received (a couple hundred have survived, and there is a beautiful coffee-table-worthy book about them called Letters from Hell). I think people wrote letters to the police, some of them pretending to be the killer, because people do stupid stuff like that, and then someone got a bright idea.

“Someone” was probably a newspaper reporter or editor because the “Dear Boss” letter wasn’t sent to the police; it was sent to the Central News Agency. It was a publicity stunt. And to make it good, the writer not only claimed to be the Whitechapel murderer, but named him.

(The police fell for it hook, line, and sinker and reproduced the letter and postcard, placarding them in front of police stations, hoping someone would recognize the handwriting. So they were publicly authenticated as being really and truly from the Whitechapel murderer and led everyone off on a wild goose chase. The same thing happened again almost a hundred years later, during the hunt for Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper. Someone sent the police a tape recording, and the police wasted countless hours and effort in trying to identify him, on the assumption that he was the Ripper. He wasn’t.)

The letter, and the follow-up postcard that starts, “I wasnt codding dear old Boss,” give the murderer a kind of style, a personality—an ugly personality, but a personality none the less. Something to hang your ideas about the murderer on. They’ve become so enmeshed in the story that even if you don’t believe in them, you call him Jack the Ripper.

And part of Jack’s enduring magnetism, if I can call it that, is that they didn’t catch him. No one ever saw him. To this day, nobody knows who he was. People have theories, and have been having theories since 1888—and the crazy theories about Jack the Ripper are also part of what keeps interest in him alive—but the theories have either been proven wrong or languish in the limbo of not being proven right.

I watched a true crime show about a guy pursuing the theory that one of the men who discovered Polly Nichols’ body was actually the killer. It is a very clever theory—and follows one of the precepts of both detective fiction and police investigation, that the person who finds the body is always suspicious—but is hobbled by the same problem as the other modern-day theories: the lack of a time machine to go back and ask the right people the right questions. Or to send a CSI team back to collect all the evidence we don’t have.

(Okay, obviously, with a working and reliable time machine, you could just go back to the night of one of the murders and wait for Jack to show up. Easy as pie.)

The terror Jack caused in 1888 was rooted in his crimes, the vicious bloody butchering murders of (at least) Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elisabeth Stride, Kate Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly.  But part of the terror was that Jack the Ripper could be anybody. He wasn’t a crazed madman (although plenty of people thought he was), because a crazed madman would have been caught. This was a murderer who knew how to perform normalcy. The idea that the murderer could hide what he was, that someone could be both a brutal, bloody killer and an upright member of society, was both fascinating and profoundly upsetting—as it still is.

It is one of history’s odd coincidences—the sort of thing that’s too on-the-nose to put in a novel—that at the same time as the Whitechapel murders in 1888, a stage version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was being performed at the Lyceum Theatre in London. The relevance was as obvious then as it is today. (Someone even wrote to the police with the theory that the star of the play, Richard Mansfield, was the Whitechapel murderer; his performance was, perhaps, too convincing.)

Jack the Ripper has staying power. The name, the immediate mythologizing, the subsequent theorizing, (the tourism industry in Whitechapel, which also started in 1888), the unresolvable uncertainty: all these things keep Jack a household word. And they make a start—although they certainly don’t add up to an answer—on the question, Why Jack the Ripper?

Photo of Katherine AddisonPhoto Credit: Sheila Perry KATHERINE ADDISON’s short fiction has been selected by The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror and The Year’s Best Science Fiction. She is the author of the Locus Award-winning novel The Goblin Emperor. As Sarah Monette, she is the author of the Doctrine of Labyrinths series and co-author, with Elizabeth Bear, of the Iskryne series. She lives near Madison, Wisconsin. You can find her on Twitter as @pennyvixen.

Giveaway Rules: To be entered in the giveaway, fill out the form below OR send an email to kristen AT fantasybookcafe DOT com with the subject “Angel of the Crows Giveaway.” One entry per household and two winners will be randomly selected. Those from North America are eligible to win. The giveaway will be open until the end of the day on Tuesday, June 30. Each winner has 24 hours to respond once contacted via email, and if I don’t hear from them after 24 hours has passed, a new winner will be chosen (who will also have 24 hours to respond until someone gets back to me with a place to send the book).

Please note email addresses will only be used for the purpose of contacting the winner. Once the giveaway is over all the emails will be deleted.

Update: The giveaway has ended.