Title: The Clockwork Scarab
Author: Colleen Gleason
Release Date: September 17, 2013
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Two young women of similar age and standing have disappeared: one found dead and the other still missing. The only clue to connect them is a small Egyptian clockwork scarab. Only Miss Stoker and Miss Holmes are well-positioned enough, similar in age and stature as they are to the victims, to investigate. An unlikely
pair, the fierce Evaline Stoker and logical Mina Holmes must follow in
the footsteps of their infamous families, Miss Holmes has inherited her
Uncle Sherlock’s keen investigative skills while Miss Stoker has
accepted her family calling as a hunter of the undead. The partners must
find a way to work together, while navigating the advances of a strange
yet handsome American, a clever Scotland Yard investigator, and a
cunning thief, to solve the mystery of the clockwork scarabs.
The Clockwork Scarab is intriguing, a unique twisting together of Victorian intrigue and secrecy, steam, Egyptian mythology, and even a bit of time travel. Two intelligent and resourceful heroines follow hidden clues and their own curiosity in order to expose a dangerous group responsible for the deaths of young, privileged women, hoping to keep anyone else from disappearing or dying.
Mina and Evaline, while brought together in order to uncover the truth, are by no means friends. In some situations, they're barely civil towards each other. To Evaline, Mina is an awkward but bossy young woman who spends too much time with her nose in a book, constantly taking charge and analyzing the situation just like her uncle would. Alternately, Mina sees Evaline as head-strong and impatient, more inclined to show off her fighting skills and toss caution to the wind, jumping in straight away without thinking of consequences. Both see the other as foolish and unnecessary, perhaps with potential skills that could assist the investigation. They're forced to work on the mystery with each other, two girls who exist both in and out of polite society because of their skills, and they must learn to work together to keep the rest of London safe.
I'm often pulled into books by creative and intriguing world-building. Here is a re-imagining of a known setting, the past setting of London in the late 19th century, but this isn't the London I'm familiar with. This is a new but old London that runs on steam and gears, that exists in different street levels one on top of the other. It implies a different sort of evolution of the UK, that this, perhaps, isn't the past we are familiar with, that this is more of an alternate history sort of book.
The author has paid a great deal of attention to the grandeur of the setting, the details of the new steampunk machines and vehicles, the thought-processes of a well-bred but unconventional young woman living in London. She is polite but head-strong, intelligent, inquisitive, resourceful, thoughtful, and witty, her corset hiding a strong will and a spine of steel. She is easily dismissed by male counterparts and authority figures but is willing to push forward, to break through society's norms and take matters into her own hands. Mina Holmes and Evaline Stoker are the only ones able to unravel the mystery and they will not stop, even with inquisitive young men following them, poking their noses in unwanted places.
This is similar to Gail Carriger's Finishing School series, both in genre and it connecting to a previous adult series. This book is set some 60 to 70 years after Gleason's The Gardella Vampire Chronicles, but I'm not sure how loosely or tightly connected this series will be to it.
With re-tellings and re-imaginings, a certain amount of suspension of disbelief is required on behalf of the reader. In this book, with Sherlock Holmes being a real person, with Bram Stoker writing of vampires because he knew they were real, with London running on steam and mechanical devices, with someone travelling through time and ending up in this steam-filled city, I was both entertained and confused. As thrilling as the mystery and the plot are, as compelling as the characters are, as intricate as the world-building is, I still had a little bit of trouble suspending that much disbelief.
That being said, I did find this thoroughly enjoyable. The mystery and intrigue, the new-old London, the ways in which Mina and Evaline clash and work off each other, all of that worked for me. Considering where the book went and how it ended, I'm rather curious as to what will happen next, what mystery Mina and Evaline will have to uncover while keeping the bossy men in their lives at bay.
(I received an advance copy of this title to review from Raincoast Books.)