Book Review: These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly


“Be careful how deep you bury the past.”


Set in 19th century New York, this story is about a young woman named Josephine Montfort – a girl who strives to break through the social boundaries set on women by society. In spite of coming from a well-bred family, Jo dreams of becoming a reporter – an occupation deemed unsuitable for women at that time. But things change when she receives grave news of her father’s death. They ruled it out as suicide but Jo eventually suspects that there is something more to her father’s demise. Determined to find out the truth at all costs, she works together with a reporter named Eddie in order to solve this mystery. She steps into a world she has never known before – a world tinged with darkness, secrets and lies – and realizes just how ugly and exciting that world could get. Still she must decide for herself how much she is willing to risk and lose in order to uncover the truth.



Fun and thrilling – that’s how I would describe Jo’s story. With everything written from Jo’s perspective, I feel like I was looking right through a window and seeing the layout of 1890s New York on the other side – splayed out in perfectly vivid and realistic detail. All the things I learned from her lifestyle, all the places she’d visited, the dark side to New York and even the comfortable but constraining life she was acquainted with – all of these gave me a lot of insight and a whole new appreciation for the modern age we live in.

I originally hadn’t planned on reading These Shallow Graves. But it just snagged my attention when I was browsing through Goodreads. I was trying to look for good books that had some fresh point of views and also to stray a little bit from my favourite genre, fantasy. I had no clue or whatsoever of what I was going to find here. I initially thought that this was a horror type of novel because of its dark, haunting but beautiful cover – but I was wrong. These Shallow Graves wasn’t a horror story – it was a historical fiction!

Now I’m not a big fan of historical fictions. I rarely read books of this genre and only choose those that are recommended by my friends. And even though I had liked all of them, not one was able to satisfy me. And this is why finding out that These Shallow Graves was a historical novel made me a bit apprehensive.

To my surprise, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected – in fact, I very much enjoyed reading TSG because of the mystery and suspense factor added to it. Most of the characters were fun and quirky; I love how even though the novel leans on a serious, complex theme, it still brims with humor and thus, making it a lighter and easier read.

However, I wasn’t really convinced by the romance between Eddie and Jo. Their first kiss happened way too fast there wasn’t any anticipation to it at all. It really came as a shock to me because they were just getting to know each other and already they are kissing and proclaiming their love for each other. It was just too unbelievable. And even with Eddie’s handsome description or his interesting history, he didn’t make me swoon or root for their relationship.

But my biggest disappointment about this book was its PREDICTABILITY. I admit – the story made me keep guessing and guessing – however they were all EASY guesses. It didn’t even take me long to figure out who the real culprit was. And what’s more annoying was the fact that the characters were even slower on the uptake than I was. I just wish they figured things out much faster than I did because I really wanted to be surprised.

Jo, as the heroine, made a great first impression on me. She was one of the main reasons I carried on with reading this book despite its being a historical fiction. I find some pieces of myself in her – her rebellious streak, the insatiable curiosity that she possesses – I can even relate to the sheltered life she has lived with. And though she has her moments of doubt, Jo proved that she had more backbone unlike some of her other socialite friends. What I can’t stand about her character though is her insistent naivety and ignorance. I know that the things she experienced were all new to her, but come on! After everything she went through? You would’ve expected her to know better by now. But nooo – she insists on trusting the wrong people, even after knowing what they can potentially do. Her stubborn refusal to accept the worst in people and see the good in them even if it went against her logic was parts admirable but mostly idiotic. Still, Jo is one of my favourite characters in the story even if she is maddening sometimes.

Another one of my favorites was Oscar. He’s only a secondary character but I’m an ultimate fan of his. Despite his geekiness, I think I’ve fallen in love with his explanations and knowledge of medical forensics.  He was more of an informative character than an emotional one, but I love him nonetheless! Plus his witty and quirky personality also endeared him to me.

There were also some characters that intrigued me but didn’t come to flesh in this story. First is Kinch. We heard snippets of conversation involving him and other characters but it wasn’t enough. I wished he had more interactions with the main character, but sadly, the author decided to kill him two times over. Once in Africa, and twice in Darkbriar. It was such a disappointment since Kinch made a really interesting side character. The second one is Nelly Bly, Jo’s hero. I know that she’s a real-life figure but I wish the author created a way to make her and Jo meet. It would’ve been an interesting meeting.

In general, I think the story was plot-driven more than anything else. I didn’t feel emotionally connected to the characters and the lack of depth in their relationships really stood out. If only Donnelly invested more time and effort in developing the emotional arc, I would have given this book a glittering five stars.



I was pleasantly surprised with the realization that I actually felt HAPPY and SATISFIED over the ending – a miraculous thing, indeed. It’s such a rare feeling for me to feel this way after reading a book – and to a historical fiction, nonetheless! (Laughs) I think Donnelly deserves some points for this.

What’s more I would like to recommend this book to every one of you who loves feminine heroes – and mystery – and crime novels – and thrillers. This book will not disappoint. However if you are looking for a great sweeping romance… hmm, well… this book might let you down. However, this is just one person’s opinion though. I know others who have read TSG and were swept away by the romance of this book. But who knows? Maybe you’ll love it – maybe you’ll not. The only way to find that out is if you try it and then see for yourself. 🙂



“Fac quod faciendum est.”

Do what must be done.


⭐⭐⭐ ☆ 3.5 stars


6 thoughts on “Book Review: These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

  1. Diana says:

    Nice review. The synopsis does sound interesting though the whole idea of the romance bit and the kiss happening all too fast was a bit off-putting. The book does sound good though. Great job on the detailed nalaysis of the plot and characters.

    Liked by 1 person

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