Review: The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason
Release date: September 17th, 2013
Series: Yes, #1 in the Stoker & Holmes series
Length: 356 pages
Rating: Steampunkian, girl-powery, mysterious fun.
Evaline Stoker and Mina Holmes never meant to get into the family business. But when you’re the sister of Bram and the niece of Sherlock, vampire hunting and mystery solving are in your blood. And when two society girls go missing, there’s no one more qualified to investigate.
Now fierce Evaline and logical Mina must resolve their rivalry, navigate the advances of not just one but three mysterious gentlemen, and solve murder with only one clue: a strange Egyptian scarab. The stakes are high. If Stoker and Holmes don’t unravel why the belles of London society are in such danger, they’ll become the next victims.
I've been meaning to read The Clockwork Scarab for ages. When its sequel, The Spiritglass Charade, showed up in the mail, it was the kick in the pants to finally get me do it, and boy, am I glad I did. This book is fun. It's steampunk, feminist, funny, breezy fun, and while it definitely could dig deeper in some parts, the quick pace and twisty mystery make for a super entertaining read.
It's London, 1889, and two teenage girls are called to a secret meeting with a mysterious benefactor. Evaline Stoker, younger sister of Bram Stoker, and Mina Holmes, niece of Sherlock Holmes, are tasked with solving a recent spate of murders and disappearances of high society girls. Mina is Holmesian to a T: mega-observant, pompous, and a bit cold. Evaline is fiery, strong, and full of energy. They clash immediately but they both have huge family legacies to live up to. And what's more, they desperately want to. Neither feels worthy of their surnames, mostly because they're girls (feminism and the oppression of women is a huge theme in the book which YAY). Mina, of course, is niece of the famous Sherlock, and Evaline comes from the most famous vampire hunting family. They have a lot to prove, so of course they say yes to the task and tumble headlong into a twisty, blood-soaked mystery.
The Clockwork Scarab is told in alternating first person viewpoints, though Mina is definitely the dominant narrator. It took me a little while to get Evaline and to get attached to her POV. For some reason, she's didn't immediately pop to me. Mina--stodgy, pompous, brilliant, hilarious Mina--I loved right away. It wasn't until about a third of the way into the book that Evaline's narration started to sound different from Mina's. I fell in abrupt love with her in a certain arm-wrestling scene, and I found myself totally friendshipping these girls. They're complete opposites, and they butt heads at first, but they're slowly coming to realize that they'll be better together, with Mina's brains complementing Evaline's brawn. I can't wait to see them bond in later books.
This world is PACKED. WITH. STUFF. It may seem like a mishmash (and I'll admit that part of it's charm is that it is), I totally bought this alternate version of London. It's a steam-powered alt London full of gadgetry and gewgaws. Vampires are real, though most of the population doesn't know it. Sherlock Holmes is a real man, and not merely a literary figure. Oh, and a boy from 2016 totally just time traveled back to 1889. There's sly British humor, banter, and hijinks.
The romances are not full romances yet--just the chess pieces being moved in place. Also Mina has two shipping possibilities and i think the one that I'm feeling a bit less may be the winner. But again, the romance hasn't been fired yet for either Evaline or Mina. There's Evaline's love interest, Pix, who is a mysterious Cockney street... lord... mystery... person with lots of secrets and I don't know what his deal is but yes please (even though he is sometimes impossible to understand). Then there's Mina's Men, aforementioned time-traveler Dylan, a fish out of water equipped with modern sensibilities, slang, and a cell phone; and Ambrose Grayling, a Scottish police inspector who rivals Mina's skills when it comes to observation and with whom she frequently butts heads. I'm still not entirely sure what the point of Dylan is yet, but we shall see.
I never quite got the feels from this book, and the romances feel both very undercooked and don't amount to much more than sniping and blushing (which, I'll admit, I quite like). Certainly emotional beats could have been hit harder, and more could have been wrung from the relationship between Evaline and Mina. But all the pieces are there. My other main complaint is that you don't get a lot of answers to the many mysteries in this book, which makes sense, as this is the first in a series. I'm really glad I have The Spiritglass Charade all ready to read. The Clockwork Scarab doesn't really end on a cliffhanger, but it definitely leaves some threads dangling.