My rating: A vacation by a beach I’d go to again (star equivalent: 3.5)
A Study in Ashes brings the events in The Baskerville Affair series to a strong finish. I reviewed the first in the series, and Jaclyn and I dueled over the second, and I’m back again to tell you that A Study in Ashes does not disappoint. WARNING: If you have not read the first two books, the next two paragraphs will SPOIL things for you! Read on after the cover image if you’ve already read them.
At the end of the last book, Evelina got entangled in the Gold King’s web, and was restricted to a college campus to learn more about her magic. Nick disappeared when his airship went down in the last battle for Athena, the air spirit who merges with airships. Holmes and Mycroft were still being mysterious, and the steam barons continued to plot against one another. Imogen killed the living automaton, and Tobias saved Imogen from Magnus.
As this installment opens, Evelina is chafing at her imprisonment and at the college’s determination not to give her the same supplies they give male students. Holmes is plotting to free Evelina, Watson reappears to help, and Nick has ended up a slave in the Scarlet King’s Manufactory Three. The Schoolmaster is still leading the rebellion. Tobias continues to build war machines for the Gold King, and Imogen is effectively in a coma, while her spirit struggles in the Bancroft clock against her twin for possession of her body. Mouse and Bird play a larger role.
This book is considerably longer than the first two, and it does suffer from a lag in pace just before the halfway mark, after which it picks up with incredible speed, action, and complexity. The narration is uneven, with Imogen and Holmes dropping off partway through the novel before they start narrating again near the end. In some places, it feels as though the story has become too complicated for the narration and pacing to support.
There. Now that I have the rough patches all marked, I can discuss what I really liked about this book.
I love dry wit. Holmes, Nick, and the Schoolmaster are extremely good at this, which makes them some of my favorite characters. I can’t quote it, but you’ll discover it for yourself.
About the Schoolmaster. HUGE plot twist involving his character, which I did not see coming, at all (am I the only one?). He still fascinates me, and I really want to read more about him. Nor is he the only character with a plot twist. Tobias ends up somewhere completely different from where I thought he was going, and honestly, he’s the other reason I want to continue reading in the world of the Baskerville Affair.
This book goes to a darker place than the ones before (but let’s be honest, the series was heading that way) – to the underground world of the Black Kingdom, and to war. London becomes a battlefield as the revolution finally breaks out, and the reader gets a good glimpse of many different facets through the various narrators – the air battles, the ground battles, behind the front lines, and the command centers. Every character gets a piece of the action. The last quarter of the book may not be for everyone, but I found myself wanting to discover what happened to all the narrators, and enjoying the different perspectives of the war. On the other hand, it may be the best part for other readers, with its non-stop action.
With vivid characters, high-intensity action, and machines run on (or colliding with) magic, fans of steampunk will enjoy this conclusion to the Baskerville Affair trilogy.
*e-Arc received through NetGalley
For another young female investigator with unusual powers who lives in a steampunk/gaslamp alternate Victorian England and falls in love over the course of the novel, try Soulless by Gail Garriger.
Disenchanted & Co. also follows a young woman who investigates magical occurrences. Set in a very different alternate western North America, the politics are not as central to the conspiracy plot. And this time, the evil magician may not be evil, after all…
Cold Magic is more of an epic gaslamp fantasy, but far outweighs any of these on the “Awesome” scales, in my own humble opinion. Cat is a young Phoenician with a mysterious past in an ice-age world where Africans colonized Europe, zombies escaped from underground when miners dug too deeply, and magical Houses rule politics in northwestern Europe. Her adventures with her cousin lead her into the spirit world and back out, as she tries to discover who she is and to protect her cousin from those who seek her.
Also longer and greater (in my estimation) is Martha Wells’ steampunk series. In a different world, magical and mechanical realms collide in a war that threatens the survival of magic. This series has world-jumping, adventure, danger, and great characters.