Saturday, October 4, 2014

A Study in Silks by Emma Jane Holloway

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: October 24, 2013

Evelina Cooper, the niece of the great Sherlock Holmes, is poised to enjoy her first Season in London Society. But there’s a murderer to deal with—not to mention missing automatons, a sorcerer, and a talking mouse. In a Victorian era ruled by a council of ruthless steam barons, mechanical power is the real monarch and sorcery the demon enemy of the Empire. Nevertheless, the most coveted weapon is magic that can run machines—something Evelina has secretly mastered. But rather than making her fortune, her special talents could mean death or an eternity as a guest of Her Majesty’s secret laboratories. What’s a polite young lady to do but mind her manners and pray she’s never found out? But then there’s that murder. As Sherlock Holmes’s niece, Evelina should be able to find the answers, but she has a lot to learn. And the first decision she has to make is whether to trust the handsome, clever rake who makes her breath come faster, or the dashing trick rider who would dare anything for her if she would only just ask.

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If I have a literary guilty pleasure, it's steampunk. I'm not a huge fan of science fiction, but there is something about the sub-genre that appeals to me in a way I can't explain. It's fun, it's imaginative and I get a kick seeing what authors are capable of when allowed to play in an alternative time period littered with retro-futuristic gadgets. 

Generally speaking, I gravitate toward adult titles like Steampunk Darcy or How Beauty Met the Beast, but I've learned to roll with it when something catches my eye which is how I came by Emma Jane Holloway's A Study in Silks. A young adult piece, I knew it was hit or miss going in, but I ultimately enjoyed the title for its unique blend of automation, adventure and whimsy. The love triangle didn't really work for me, but Holloway gets points for downplaying it in favor of the steam barons and the underground power battle between mechanical engineering and clandestine sorcery. 

Several readers have thrown up their hands and cried foul over Holloway's incorporation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classics, but I can't say I had a problem with it. A Study in Silks is no competition for the Sherlock Holmes canon, but I think it important to recognize it isn't meant to rival the original series. Like Jasper Fforde, Holloway is extending an appreciative nod, not reinventing the wheel.

On that note, it should also be acknowledged that A Study in Silks isn't meant to be a standalone publication. Several elements of the story contribute to plot twists later in the series, leave the reader wondering and feel incomplete. I can certainly understand the frustration this causes, but I feel it best if readers at least attempt to appreciate the author's vision. 

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How many graduates of the Wollaston Academy for Young Ladies numbered walking a tightrope among their accomplishments? Then again, how many were orphans with one grandmother in charge of a country estate and another who told fortunes with Ploughman’s Paramount Circus? In some ways, Evelina had spent her whole life on a narrow ledge, balanced between two completely different worlds.
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Holly (2 Kids and Tired) said...

Steampunk isn't a genre I've ever read, but it fascinates me. I've seen this book around and was curious about it. I'm glad it's so good.

Anonymous said...

It's a fun piece. Definitely recommend it if you want to sample the genre. :)