Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason

Reviewed by Jeanne

When Miss Mina Holmes, niece of the renowned detective Sherlock, receives a mysterious summons to the British Museum at midnight, she does what any self-respecting Victorian ingĂ©nue would do:  she dresses in trousers, takes a Steam-Stream gun for protection, and sets out to see what’s behind the missive.  She finds she is not the only one to receive an invitation:  Evaline Stoker, teenage sister to the would be novelist Bram, is also at the meeting which has been called by none other than Irene Adler.  She tells the girls there is danger afoot: society girls are going missing.  One has turned up dead with a strange mechanical scarab as a clue.  She calls upon the girls to do their patriotic duty to Queen and Country and to solve the mystery before more girls go missing.

As one might guess from the above description, this is a Young Adult novel with an alternate universe setting.  Electricity has been outlawed as dangerous; steam runs everything, including a good number of amazing gadgets from moving Night Illuminators to eyelash curlers.  The book is narrated in turn by Mina and Evaline, who are both self-assured young women who don’t exactly hit it off as friends.  Mina is very much a scientist in the mold of her uncle, but like him and her father Mycroft, she isn’t exactly a social butterfly—and even less since her mother left abruptly.  Orphaned Evaline, on the other hand, cuts quite a fashionable figure and is much more aware of social nuance even if her nocturnal activities aren’t exactly ladylike:  she’s the latest in a line of vampire hunters.   Buffy—er, Evaline—also has superhuman strength but tends to be a bit impulsive in contrast to the more analytical Mina.

A good part of the fun is in the narration and the description of a steam-punk London, which is only enhanced when a strange young man wearing very odd clothing and shoes turns up in the Museum.  He has a lighting device which he claims, quite improbably, is a communication device.  He is also American and seems astounded by all the steam driven devices.  The book is cognizant of various Victorian enthusiasms, such as Egyptology, and observes some of the era’s sensibilities. There are various flirtations with a handsome but infuriating policeman and a handsome but infuriating street-smart young man and the handsome but peculiar and yes, infuriating,  American. References to Sherlock, Bram Stoker, the Royal Family, and much more enliven the narrative. 

 If you’re curious about steampunk, this book is a good introduction to the genre.  This is only my second book with those trappings, and I found it was much smoother read.  The author made the gadgets an easy part of the narrative.  The one book was a bit self-conscious about pointing out the various mechanicals. My biggest complaint was that -- as alluded to earlier-- Evaline owes a great deal to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. While this is definitely aimed at the YA crowd, many adults would enjoy it as a good bit of fun. This adult certainly did.

Note: this is the first in the Holmes & Stoker series.

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