Like Sherlock Holmes and mysteries? Like Steampunk? Like Paranormal? Like Romance? How ’bout bringing them altogether as in all in one book? Yeah…I was into that combo too. Some books have a little bit of everything in them and this is one of them. I could string at least half a dozen genres together that are in this book and probably still miss one or two. Just like I can safely say there are about that many perspectives and plot threads introduced.
This was all in some ways a strength, but also in some ways a weakness. My favorite things are creative world building along with proper character development and tight, twisty plot lines. I did most certainly get this and more, but I was also distracted by the sheer amounts whether it was the Sherlockian Victorian Steampunk Paranormal London that was created or just that there were so many players with their own agendas in the game. All were great in and of themselves, but together, they were a tad overwhelming as it hopped from not just a new perspective, but new scenes and people. To sum up, this is a minor niggle and in no way put me off the book or series.
I am hoping that some of this is due to the fact that this was a first book in a series that had a huge foundation to lay, but from now on out will settle in to a narrower focus in subsequent books. There were a few questions left deliberately unanswered and there were a few plots left wide open with the obvious ‘to be continued…’ feel to them.
The premise is ‘What if Sherlock Holmes had a niece?’ and ‘What if said niece had a gypsy father who gifted her with magic through his bloodline?’. Along with ‘what if Victorian England was in a tight grip of the Steam Barons who held the monopoly on all big business?’ Alternative power and fuel sources are violently squelched as are those who are found to use magic. It is a world much like we imagine when we think of Victorian London, but it is darker and grittier too
Evalina Cooper, daughter of the disgraced Marian Holmes who married a man with gypsy bloodlines, was plucked from her home with her Grandma Cooper and the circus folk by her Grandmama Holmes to be brought up as a lady. Evalina will always straddle both of these worlds not to be fully accepted in either. It is therefore a big deal when her best friend from school, Imogene, the daughter of a Baron, invites her to stay with the family for Imogene’s big Coming Out and the London Season.
Shortly before the season begins, a gruesome murder occurs in the house, some oddly life-like automatons go missing and several powerful men are after a special magical object that people will kill to have in their possession. Evalina is worried about how all this will affect Imogene and her family so she uses the skills her famous uncle has taught her along with her own special skills to solve the case before the police do.
In the meantime, Evalina is confronted by a much-loved face from her past who she still shares feelings with and the complication of the son of the house that she is crushing on showing signs of interest too. Her investigations put her in the crosshairs of a powerful Steam magnate and a dark sorcerer. Evalina’s investigation reveals an odd assortment of facts that she can’t quite figure out, but time is of essence and danger is moving in from all sides.
When it comes to the characters, I really enjoyed the way each was written. These characters were not simply dark and light, hero and villain. There is an opportunity to really get to know them down to their motives, their strengths and their flaws. Most of the bad guys made the mistake of being ambitious, greedy and weak or raving idealists more than just labeled simply as villains. There were several who teetered both ways and sometimes their circumstances directed their course more than their desires. As to the heroine herself, she is a complex person because of her past and current circumstances. She is a little flawed and conflicted sometimes naive, but always tenacious.
The mystery plot is not simple or easy to solve even with all the perspectives that help tell this story. Truthfully, there is more than one mystery going on that eventually tangle together. Captivating at the very least. Now the romance plot is almost as convoluted because there is more than one suitor for Evalina and each is a whole different life choice. She always has to wonder about motives that complicate matters too. There are no passionate scenes beyond embraces and unrequited feelings, but I still look forward to where it is all going. The steampunk aspect is strong too not just in weaponry or industrial creations but even seen in domestic details. Oh and that tantalizing letter in the end…that was a delicious cliffhanger in some ways because I really enjoyed that character.
As to the Sherlock Holmes tie-in, the story gives a wink to his cases and includes the regular characters from the Arthur Conan Doyle stories. Holmes, Watson and Lestrade are written well, but keep in mind they are cameo and secondary roles in this one. I did enjoy the relationship that was shown between Evalina and her Uncle Sherlock and look forward to more of the same in the next books.
All in all, this was a great start to a fab new series that I recommend heartily to Sherlock fans and lovers of historical, steampunk, paranormal and mystery lovers who like a little bit of romance and a whole lot of intrigue.
My thanks to Net Galley for providing the book for review purposes.
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