A Study in Silks by Emma Jane Holloway
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A Study in Silks(The Baskerville Affair Book1) by Emma Jane Holloway
I seem to be growing fond of Steampunk. I still prefer calling them Gas-lamp or Gas-lite. There is steam in this novel, but not much is evident and the most crucial steam item in the story is impractical: the steam driven pocket watch. Think possibly asbestos pockets for personal protection. Still--Emma Jane Holloway has crafted something that is bringing me closer to being a great fan of Gas-lamp.
One thing I'm not all that fond of is the proliferation of caricatures of Sherlock Holmes and his brother Mycroft in many of this genre. In too man cases it’s more like name dropping to bring in the readers with little attention to them remaining in character. I was even a slight bit disappointed on his first appearance in this novel and I had to tell myself to cut some slack, both for the fact that this is an alternate universe and that the scene is short enough and early enough that there might be some reason his demeanor seems a slight out of character. Plus I tend to be picky about how Sherlock should be portrayed.
The story itself is supposed to be about Evelina, his niece, so it's not entirely fair to dwell on first appearances of a lesser character. This novel is chock full of characters and you will eventually need some score cards. We start up with Evelina who is in temporary residence with her friend Imogen Roth and the girl’s family, and her father Lord Bancroft. This exposes Evelina to Tobias Roth who might well be a heartbreaker. But this visit to her friend exposes her to more imminent danger than just the danger of her heart. And on this night all the cards are beginning to be set in place. And not without a bit of her past catching up to her in the form of her childhood love Nick.
Nick and Evelina come from a Circus life, something Evelina has tried to leave behind when Mrs. Holmes brought her home from all of that to fulfill some of what she’d wished for her own daughter who had run away to the circus, so to speak. It might even be said that this places Evelina in the precarious place of navigating the treacherous life of a young woman in 1888 England even though it be an alternate England. And this society becomes a thread in the plot when the Gold King uses her as inducement to get Sherlock to work for him in a supposed exchange for lifting Evelina past her station in life to be presented before the Queen. It's all a subplot within the main plot and you need a second scorecard for all the subplots that linger in the wings of this tale.
England is primarily run by six power players and a rather seedy group whose leader remains obscured. They are: Jasper Keeting, the Gold King; William Reading, the Scarlet King; Coal, the Blue King, Bartholemeow Thane, the gray king; Jane Spicer the Green king and chairwoman; Valerie Cutter, the Violet king; then lastly The Black kingdom (underground) presently represented by (Mr. Fish).
But let's get to the heart of the mysteries. Evelina while engaging in a number of crafts that might get her in trouble, one of which looks like witchcraft and could get her killed, witnesses Bancroft’s men removing what might be illegal automatons from the attic of the Bancroft’s house. In an effort to get away undetected she encounters some unknown people in the house because she's skulking in the near darkness. At least one of those might have had some tinge of magic, but she’s not certain. While diverting herself into her friend’s room to help her (Imogen has insomnia and frightful nightmares) Evelina is there when one of the servants, Grace Child, is murdered downstairs. To compound the issues and before the murder is discovered Evelina returns to her own room to find her childhood friend Nick has broken into the house and into her room. When brought to the scene of the crime Evelina begins her own investigation and purloins some evidence that could possibly get Lord Bancroft into a lot of trouble if it is found and she finds she also has to consider her friend Nick as a suspect in the murder. The strong evidence against her friend’s family is such that she decides to do her own investigation to determine some things before her Uncle Sherlock gets involved in the case.
This leads the reader into a whole bunch of world building and some explanation of details that not only begin to unravel many mysteries, but begin to weave even more mysteries while the main mystery of who killed Grace Child remains as the primary mystery throughout and frames the largest concern for suspicion of many of the main figures in the story.
Yet it seems that even this mystery begins to take a backseat near the end when someone tries to kill Evelina's Uncle Sherlock. The attempt on his life is integral to the story in so many ways that it almost overshadows Grace Child's murder. The clues are there though and the reader can easily deduce this mystery so it is more a matter of waiting for our young investigator to uncover the truth.
Though the world building is a large focus, the character development is quite well done and seems mostly to dominate; which serves to enhance the writing style that is already quite engaging. It is not difficult to sink deep into this world and the story to a level of maximum engrossment.
There seem to be threads that are left hanging; but the core of the story, the mysteries that define the primary plot are well taken care of with enough left to serve as inducement to continue to read the series. This is traditional published and that means that the ebooks are priced quite steep and as long as the price is right I'll likely be waiting for the hard copy to show up in the mail.
This makes for fantastic Alternate History, Gas-lite Mystery with some dominating Paranormal Magic. Just the right combination to be called Steampunk and should satisfy the hunger of most readers of those Genre.
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