This book was provided to me by Del Rey via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
A Study in Silks by Emma Jane Holloway
Evelina Cooper, the niece of the great Sherlock Holmes, is poised to enjoy her first Season in London’s high 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… (via Goodreads)
There is a lot going on in this book. Steampunk London. Forbidden magic. Sherlock Holmes’s sister’s daughter whose father was part of a traveling circus. To her credit, Emma Jane Hollaway eventually does a good job juggling all that.
While the novel is 500+ pages, and the beginning of a trilogy, most of these elements are introduced in the first chapter in the background while Evelina Cooper, our magic-using tinkering heroine, sneaks around her friend’s house. It’s a lot. Add to that a scrambled timeline at the beginning as we catchup with other events that are going on at the same time as the murder of a house maid. I’m not sure it’s the most elegant way of organizing plot. Thankfully, the rest of the book isn’t as loopy. After about the 45% mark, the action picks up and the story starts moving.
I’m not much of a fan of YA, which this is. Much time is spent on Evelina’s presentation into society and a love triangle between her, her “aristo” friend’s brother, and a guy she grew up with in the circus. All of the above are concerned about their places in the world. It’s all very emotional and tortured, and is an aspect that felt was over-wrought. I would have been happier if the story was more firmly about the murder, the forgeries, and the blackmail. You know, the good stuff.
Most of those plot elements, while secret from our protagonists, are unraveled rather quickly to the reader. We’re given enough points of view to see pretty much all of the story. Most of the suspense in the book is about *how* Evelina will figure things out more than *if.* While the first of a trilogy, A Study in Silks ends in a fairly satisfying manner. The main mystery is solved, other threads are left loose.
I’m always very dubious in YA stories of young people that are very competent at many, many things. At age 19, I knew pretty much nothing about every thing. Even if she is Sherlock Holmes’ niece, Evelina is an accomplished acrobat, well-read, and able to machine tiny animal automata. If she were in her 30s, I could buy it. That would be a steampunk story I would read. Apparently, her magical talent is substantial as well, a hook into the next book.
Uncle Sherlock does put in an appearance, but he’s a pretty bland Holmes. Evelina worries often that Holmes will accidentally ruin her friend’s family due to connections with a crime. That is a flaw that is out of character for the Holmes of Doyle canon.
The world-building was decent, for as many irons as there are in the fire. Occasionally, though, I felt like Hollaway was trying to be a little too clever with the cogged-out inventions. A paper shredder made of multiple flourishing Edward-Scissorhand-style shears isn’t practical. At all. Ever. There is a reason most objects are designed the way they are regardless of how they are powered.
I’m not enough of a fan of YA or of urban fantasy steampunk to read the rest of this series. I found A Study in Silks to be a fairly serviceable book, which I did enjoy in parts, but it didn’t sell me on the next 700 pages.
Genre: Mystery, Steampunk, Urban Fantasy
Why did I choose to read this book? Was willing to give it a try.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes, though it took a while to get going.
Format: Kindle eBook