Sunday 2 February 2014

#CBR6 Book 8: "The Clockwork Scarab" by Colleen Gleason

Page count: 356 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Miss Alvermina Holmes, daughter of Sir Mycroft and niece to the famous Sherlock, is summoned to the British Museum in the dark of night. Bored with her scientific experiments, and trying to get something to take her mind off the fact that her mother abandoned her and her father over a year ago, Mina decides to accept the invite.

When she arrives, she finds that another young woman has received the same summons. Miss Evaline Stoker, the younger sister of author and theatre manager Bram, has vampire hunting in her blood, and several illustrious ancestors who hunted the supernatural scourge during the Regency era. Unfortunately for Evaline, there are very few vampires left in England, and despite all her enhanced strength and speed and the training she does, she's never actually come across one yet. She's also deeply uncomfortable at the sight of blood, another drawback for any slayer of the undead.

The two young ladies discover that their summoner is none other than Irene Adler, now employed as a curator at the Museum, when she's not trying to help the royal family sort out tricky situations. A couple young women have been found dead, apparent suicides, but Miss Adler suspects foul play. A clockwork scarab was found in the possession of both the women. A third young woman has disappeared, and Miss Adler has been tasked by Princess Alexandra to do everything in her power to ensure that the girl is found alive. Adler wants to recruit Mina and Evaline as her agents.

The two girls try to work together, although neither feel very amiable towards the other, and do their best to use their abilities to solve the mysteries. There are hints of romantic entanglements for the women, involving a mysterious underworld figure and a police inspector, not to mention the strange young man the three ladies find crouched over a dead body in the Museum.

Gleason has set her new young adult series in a Steampunk version of Victorian London. Electricity has been outlawed as far too dangerous for people to use, and all manner of handy mechanical devices, all steam-driven, are mentioned, adding depth and verisimilitude to the world building. The chapters are told either from Miss Holmes or Miss Stoker's points of view, and it allows us to get to know the two young ladies, and see their varying reactions to their mission.

Mina hates her full name, and who wouldn't? Alvermina is a dreadful name. She's practically orphaned, with her mother having absconded to parts unknown, and her father spending most of his time in his club. She shares similar traits to her brilliant male relatives, being socially awkward, yet extremely observant, with excellent deductive abilities. Over the course of the investigation, she starts to fear that her uncle Sherlock is right, and that she is too easily muddled by emotions and female intuition to be a truly great investigator. She's rational, practical, loves to plan ahead and is frequently clumsy, especially when attired in long skirts and cumbersome bustles.

Evaline despairs that she shares the family calling of her Gardella ancestors, yet is unable to actually hunt and slay the undead. She wanders the streets at night trying to fight evildoers, without too much success. She therefore jumps at the chance to assist Miss Adler in solving the mystery of the dead and missing girls. She lives with her older brother Bram and his wife, the two having more or less raised her. Very few people know of her secret calling, and while she enjoys her sister-in-law's matchmaking schemes, she's not really eager to get married, suspecting that a husband would be loathe to accept her unusual nocturnal activities. She's strong, fast, and physically agile. Frequently acting before she thinks things through, she frustrates Mina with her impetuousness. She's a lot more socially adept, and also physically more attractive than Miss Holmes, another bone of contention between the two.

Neither girl start out particularly fond of the other, but as they are forced to work together, and their case starts getting more and more dangerous, they start finding common ground and a reluctant friendship.

This is the second steampunk fantasy, featuring a female relative of Sherlock Holmes I've read in the past few months. Of the two, I think this one was by far the more enjoyable. The protagonists are both fun, and engaging, with flaws enough that I'm looking forward to seeing how they will develop and grow in future books. The setup is interesting, and most of the world building is cleverly done. I was a little bit apprehensive with all the gadgets being mentioned in the early chapters, but as the story progressed, it became a lot less bothersome. I especially loved the steam-cycle. I want me one of those! Inspector Ambrose was also pretty cool, and if he doesn't actually eventually end up with Mina, I will be very upset.

Things I didn't like as much - the reveal of who Dylan is and where he came from. I'm not entirely sure what he adds to the story at all, or why these elements are necessary for the plot. If he were to die mysteriously and never be mentioned again between this book and the next, I won't mind in the slightest. I hated Nix' accent, and don't understand why it needed to be quite so exaggerated. It's suggested more than once that the accent is an affectation anyway, so why in the world couldn't he just drop it, rather than becoming more incomprehensible the further the plot developed? Thirdly, I'm not entirely sure the book needed quite so many love interests. I get that our protagonists are two young women, and that it adds excitement when they each have a young man to pine over, but they really do seem to fall for these men very quickly. The ending was also a bit hurried, and not entirely as satisfactory as I would have liked.

None of these niggles are enough to not make me very eager indeed to read the sequel. I'm a huge fan of Gleason's Gardella Vampire Chronicles and if this series ends up being half as enjoyable, I'll be well pleased.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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