The Clockwork Scarab, by Colleen Gleason

>> Friday, October 03, 2014

TITLE: The Clockwork Scarab
AUTHOR: Colleen Gleason

PAGES: 361
PUBLISHER: Chronicle

SETTING: Steampunk version of Victorian London
TYPE: Mystery / adventure / romance (I think!)
SERIES: Starts the Stoker and Holmes series

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 a murder with only one clue: the 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.

This sounded like fun. All I knew before I started was that it was steampunk and that it featured Miss Stoker (sister of Bram) and Miss Holmes (niece of Sherlock, daughter of Mycroft) investigating a mystery.

The action starts when Evaline Stoker and Mina Holmes are invited to a mysterious midnight meeting at the British Museum. They have been called in by Irene Adler (whom Sherlock Holmes readers will remember). Miss Adler has been tasked by Princess Alexandra to investigate the apparent suicides of several well-born young ladies, and wants to recruit Miss Holmes and Miss Stoker to help her do so. The only clues she has to go on are the Egyptian scarabas that have been found on the bodies. And then the meeting is interrupted by a noise in the supposedly deserted museum, and what should they find but another body, clearly one more in the string of killings?

There were some intriguing ideas here, and I liked the setup of two independent and clever young women who initially don't like each other much, but who must work together. However, this was just too preposterous for me. I didn't buy the setup for the mystery, I didn't find the details of the steampunk setting coherent, and then there's the time-traveller who comes out of nowhere with his iPhone (seriously).

But most of all, I think what made me stop reading was that it felt like Gleason was more concerned with whether something was "visually" really cool than with whether it would make sense, both in her plot and in her setting. As a for instance, take the scene where Evaline and Mina have managed to inveigle themselves into a meeting of a secret society that is obviously very relevant to their investigation. The masked leader is speaking, and what she's saying is all new information to our investigators about what the secret society is all about and what their plans are. But instead of listening till the end and gathering as much information as possible, Evaline suddenly stands up, pushes back her hood and loudly demands to know what the leader has done with the young ladies who've disappeared. Ah, but the utter stupidity and senselessness of her actions don't matter, because this gives her the chance to show off her preternatural strength in a really cool fight and escape scene (in a tie-in with another of Gleason's series, Evaline is a descendant of the vampire hunters in the Gardella Vampire Chronicles).

Adding to the annoyance, the names confused me. "Mina" immediately makes me think of Mina Harker, the character created by Bram Stoker. So part of my brain kept insisting that Mina was Miss Stoker, rather than Miss Holmes. It probably wouldn't have been a huge issue in a book I was enjoying, but since I was already irritated, it was the last drop.



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