Thursday, September 12, 2013

Attending the Season in London has rarely been so dangerous

With an uncle like Sherlock Holmes, it only follows that Evelina Cooper would end up in the middle of a murder mystery in Emma Jane Holloway's debut novel, A Study in Silks.

Evelina hasn't had the easiest upbringing. Her mother left her easy life when she married into a gypsy family, and after she died, Evelina was lucky that the circus kept her on. Of course, she worked for her keep, as a tumbler and acrobat, but it's hard for a young girl to bring enough of a draw to justify the extra mouth to feed. But as long as she was there, Niccolo was also around to keep an eye on her, either as a big brother figure, or perhaps something more. From her father's side, she's also inherited a knack for the magical. Able to talk with small spirits around her, she and Niccolo have an affinity with each other than neither can quite control.

But later, as she got older, her mother's family took an interest in her. Eventually, she's taken away from the circus by her Grandmother Holmes, and installed in a proper boarding school. It took quite awhile to adapt to the much different society she found herself in, but in the end she learned that she has a real knack for her schoolwork, and enjoys learning more than anything else. She also developed something of a knack for clockwork devices, much to the chagrin of anyone who would want her to be a proper young lady. Her new dream, though, is to attend one of the Women's Colleges.

While at school, she befriended a rather sickly girl named Imogen Bancroft. Much more the proper young lady than Miss Cooper, Imogen helped Evelina catch up with the ways of the gentry, and they developed a fast friendship. Now that Imogen is ready for her first Season in London, she's invited Evelina to stay with her at her family's house and partake of the balls with her. And perhaps they can both find husbands out of it, as well.

All these plans are thrown into question, however, when one of the maids is found murdered. Any sort of attention to the Bancroft family about something so unsavory could ruin poor Imogen's chances at making a good match, so Evelina takes it upon herself to solve the mystery before it gets too well-known. As the mystery deepens, Evelina finds herself facing down enemies, both steam-powered and magical, that she would never have believed. From a man that Lord Bancroft wishes would stay in his past, to Tobias Bancroft's idle mischief involving eight-legged mechanical chaos, the Bancroft house spirals out of control, and it'll take a mind like the great Holmes himself to set it all right again.

Reading this as an ebook, the reader doesn't quite realize what a weighty tome it is. With the paperback edition coming in at a hefty 560 pages, this is not a Steampunk novella to be ripped through in an evening. Rather, the reader enjoys the points of view of not only Evelina, but Tobias and Niccolo as well, along with the intertwining mysteries that each is involved with. While there is a bit of the love triangle between the three of them, it's not the bodice-ripper that the genre has, unfortunately, become known for. Instead, we get a proper Victorian will-she-won't-she as Miss Cooper must finally decide whether to be a part of the circus she grew up in, or the gentry that affords her the opportunity of college. Either way, there will be hurt feelings and regrets. A Study in Silks, the first novel of The Baskerville Affair, leaves the reader eagerly anticipating the next installment.

Highs: Holloway perfectly conveys the longing for a former life that Evelina is going through, especially during the scene at the circus

Lows: People who are attached to the original Sherlock Holmes stories, in which the answer is never magic, might object to the addition of magic to this story

Verdict: A wonderful book that will enthrall the reader from beginning to end

Further Reading: A Study in Darkness, 'Clockwork Chickadee', 'Tanglefoot'

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