In A Study in Silks, we follow Evelina Cooper, a young woman who grew up in a circus before Grandmother Holmes sent her to a school for young ladies, where she met her close friend, Imogene, and began to move in polite society. Her past is a thing kept secret; as is her magic. For Evelina is not only the daughter of circus performers, she is one of the Blood, people who have an innate ability to use magic. Her magic, her interest in deductive reasoning, and her fascination with clockwork come together in a unique ability to bring mechanics to life, which draws the attention of several unsavory characters.
Evelina’s story takes place in a different Victorian London, in which districts are divided by differently colored street lamps. Each neighborhood, or district, is owned by one of the Steam Barons, who control industries founded on steam technologies. In fact, the Steam Barons have achieved a stranglehold on English business, enterprise, and society, reducing the influence of the nobility to a fraction of its previous power. In this England, steam technology is king and sorcery forbidden.
Evelina’s secrets are in danger of being exposed when a murder is committed at the B____’s, where she is staying for Imogene’s first Season. Evelina becomes entangled in the mystery, trying to solve it with the occasional cryptic guidance from her Uncle Sherlock. On top of all the intrigue and murder investigations, she is drawn to two young men – her friend’s sister, the clever and handsome but indolent brother of her friend, or a circus performer from her past whose magic reacts with hers in unpredictable – and obvious – ways.
This novel started off a bit slowly, but by the fifth page I was fully engrossed in the unusual nocturnal activities of the heroine, and curious to learn more about her secrets and her past. The separate parts of the mystery are closely interwoven, and the plot moves along at a good pace throughout, with lots of thrilling moments and adventures and some scrapes. I loved the romantic subplot, although the wrap-up was unsatisfying, and I will definitely want to find out what happens next in the sequels. I also found myself intrigued by the rules of magic, and the differences between folk magic and sorcery. The folk magic brings in the (our) Victorian fascination with faeries. I can’t wait to see how Evelina’s magic fits in the universal scheme of things.
Characters are charming, flawed, complex, and dynamic. The mysterious Dr. Magnus is an excellently enigmatic, slightly creepy and manipulative villain. The history between Lord B____ and Dr. Magnus is especially intriguing. Holmes’ cameo is delightfully done, and his role at the end is one of my favorite things about this book.
The only drawback to this story was the number of extra narrators, among them the chief villains and the two young men and even Lord B____.
Overall, I really enjoyed this fantastical tale of a young woman navigating the treacherous society and politics of an alternate, magical Victorian London, and I will be reading the sequels.
*e-ARC provided by Edelweiss