Sherlock Holmes

Duel Review: ‘A Study in Darkness’

17264584A Study in Darkness (Book 2) by Emma Jane Holloway
Del Rey, October 29, 2013 (Steampunk, Historical, Mystery, Romance)*
Series: The Baskerville Affair

And in this post we have… wait for it… a difference of opinion! Lovely readers, Jaclyn and I have disagreed about how much we like this book. In the following, we proceed to express our opinions. Do you have one? Do you strongly agree or disagree with one (or both) of us? Let us know in the comments!

This is the second novel in a steampunk/gaslamp series that takes place in an alternate Victorian London.

 

Stacey’s Review

Rating: Outstanding Adventure

loved this book. It was full of action, suspense, adventure, intrigue, danger, and romance.

When we left the characters at the end of A Study in Silks , Evelina had saved the day, with her childhood sweetheart’s help (that’s Nick), and had solved the mystery of Athena’s Casket with a little help from her Uncle Holmes (yes, as in Sherlock). The villain was vanquished, but society remained unchanged and all power still resided with the Steam Barons’ Council.

This second installment opens with Nick, now captain of his own pirate airship, ally to a colony of ash rooks, and partner with an air spirit named Athena, as he attacks the airship of the Blue King, one of the worst and most powerful Steam Barons. Next, Evelina still tries to hide her magical abilities but runs afoul of the Gold King; while in the background Uncle Mycroft, Holmes’ brother, is heavily involved in a resistance/revolution movement against the Steam Barons and the status quo.

The plot weaves between Nick, Evelina, Holmes, and Imogen, Evelina’s best friend. Holmes is devious and caring; Nick almost reckless and devoted, Evelina tempted but steadfast, and Imogen delicate but determined. Imogen’s story begins with a horrific dream-vision; Evelina’s with an indiscretion that puts her in the power of the Gold King, and Holmes’ with a bomb in his drawing room. Holloway wastes no time continuing the story, an improvement on the first book in the series.

The novel is very complex, with lots of layers. Transitions between narrators are smoother than they were in the previous book, and villainous narrators are kept to a smaller percentage of the work. I kept turning the pages of this one, as the pacing for me felt very fast – lots of action, all packed into just enough wordage. The plot twists and turns were fun to follow, and although not unexpected, were occasionally creepy and often suspenseful.

I liked that there’s a kind of blur between “good” and “evil” characters in this novel. Evelina finds herself intrigued by the mysterious and manipulative villain; the Gold King is moved to help Evelina and Holmes, although his motives are self-interested. In fact, the characters in this novel are motivated by combinations of convincing, and familiar, emotions: self-interest, greed, love, and principles. No character is one-dimensional. Evelina’s temptation adds uncertainty to the plot and depth to her character. Will it ruin her chances for a happy life? Or will she be able to resist future temptations?

Overall, I loved the combination of the highly complex plot and the fast pace, mystery, romance, and excitement. The humor got me as well – lots of very funny, witty turns of phrase. And the ending! What a cliff-hanger. I felt heartbroken and hopeful at the end. I immediately had to request the third book in the series to find out what happens to Evelina, Nick, and Imogen.

Jaclyn’s Review

Rating: Beach Vacation

I did not enjoy this book nearly as much as Stacey. I didn’t hate it by any means, but I certainly didn’t have the same reading experiences as Stacey. Where Stacey found A Study in Darkness fast-paced, I had a hard time getting through some parts.

A Study in Darkness picks up pretty much from where A Study in Silks left off. Evelina’s still caught up in her feelings for Tobias despite the fact that he gave her up and is marrying another woman. Evelina’s childhood sweetheart, Nick, is off pursuing a career as a pirate and gets himself mixed up in a rebel movement. It’s not long before Evelina also finds herself involved in a intrigue plot that she would rather not be part of. Like the first book, I found A Study in Darkness very slow to get started. I felt that the changing points of view were very distracting and I often found myself thrown off balance when we shift to a different character just as things were getting good. This is not my preference of writing style and probably had a lot to do with my overall enjoyment of the book.

I find it very hard to pin point what exactly made me feel that the pacing was slow, since there was a lot of stuff going on plot-wise. In a lot of ways, A Study in Darkness was an action-adventure novel, but it seems that for me, the action and adventure started to get monotonous. There was tons of intrigue with the rebel factions and backstabbing and what have you. Whatever the reason, it took me awhile to read the book, but I will say that the second half was much faster paced and I enjoyed it more than the first part, perhaps because we had more of a focus on the romance side of things.

While I was happy with the direction of the romance in the second half of the book, I have to admit that I still wasn’t in love with it (I think I read too many historical romances, *sigh*). First off, I loathe love triangles in fiction and a big one plays a part in this series between Evelina, Nick and Tobias. Thankfully, in A Study in Darkness, this triangle aspect was toned down and it’s clear whom Evelina has chosen (which made me happy). I also liked that in this one I finally have a better understanding of the depth of emotion between Evie and Nick. They both talk about how they feel, but in the first book, and for a good part of book 2, they are rarely in the same scenes. From a romance perspective, I found this extremely frustrating, so I liked the fact that this progressed a lot more in Study in Darkness.

Overall, while I enjoyed the same elements as Stacey (especially the moral ambiguity of Evelina), I found this a difficult book to get through. There was just some element that didn’t connect for me like it did for Stacey and instead made for a hard fought for finish. However, the cliffhanger ending will have me back for the conclusion. How can I not after that ending.

*Review copies provided by Edelweiss.

Read-Alikes:

Her Ladyship's Curse (Disenchanted & Co., Book 1, Part #1)Heart's Blood (Blood Magic, #2)Phoenix Rising (Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences #1)Dead Iron (Age of Steam, #1)The Native Star (Veneficas Americana, #1)

Her Ladyship’s Curse: Another book that both of us disagreed on. Stacey loved and Jaclyn didn’t finish it. So if you liked A Study in Darkness as much as Stacey, Viehl’s steampunk mystery is probably right up your alley.

Heart’s Blood: Magic in a Victorian London, a similar world to that of A Study in Darkness. We also have a naive and innocence amateur detective that resembles Evie.

Phoenix Rising: A fabulous example of a steampunk mystery. Tons of gadgets, lots of action and two terrific characters. Added bonus, the hero is an archivist. Just let that sink in. Yup, it’s awesome!

Dead Iron: Steampunk set in the American West that also has a hint of magic. Not as similar to A Study in Darkness but has a familiar overarching big-bad that our hero, Cedar, and his compatriots have to battle against.

Native Star: Another steampunk set in the West, although in this case, I would say the hero is reminiscent of Tobias, so this one would be perfect for readers rooting for Tobias in A Study in Darkness.

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Passing the test: A Study in Silks, a book review

studyinsilksA Study in Silks by Emma Jane Holloway*
Del Rey, September 24, 2013 (Steampunk / Urban Fantasy / Alternate History)
My rating: I’ll go there again!

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

Read-alikes:
A Conspiracy of Alchemists (The Chronicles of Light and Shadow #1) Her Ladyship's Curse (Disenchanted & Co. Book 1, Part #1) Mistborn: The Final Empire (Mistborn #1)