Thursday, December 26, 2013

Review: The Clockwork Scarab - Colleen Gleason

The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason
Series: Stoker & Holmes #1
Genre: YA, alternate history, steampunk, Sherlockian fiction
Published on September 17, 2013
Published by Chronicle Books
Pages: 356
Read From: 12.7.13 - 12.14.13

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, so to speak. And when two young society girls disappear - one dead, one 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: a strange Egyptian scarab. The pressure is on and the stakes are high - if Stoker and Holmes don't figure out why London's finest sixteen-year-old women are in danger, they'll become the next victims.


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? Yes, I do really like the cover art. The clockwork scarab is really awesome! Perhaps a bit more elaborate than I initially pictured the scarabs, but still really awesome.

Characters: My opinions about the characters in this book are very muddled, so I'm going to try and take them one at a time. Mina Holmes, Sherlock's niece and therefore Mycroft's daughter. I liked Mina when she was on her own - that is, when she wasn't interacting with any of the other characters. When alone, I really enjoyed her intelligence and quick thinking. She was almost believably related to Sherlock Holmes in those moments. But whenever she was around Evaline Stoker, I got really tired of their competing with one another, and Mina became downright silly when any of the romantic interests were present. And unfortunately, Mina isn't on her own very often. She has so much potential, but just kept falling short. There was also the matter of her constantly harping on the role of women in Victorian society. Just give it a rest already, Mina; you're not doing the feminine case any favors with your whining. Evaline Stoker, sister of Bram Stoker: I liked her a little less than Mina even when she was on her own, because she was too emotional. She was good at thinking on her feet, though, and she was practical (something that Mina wasn't, which helped me doubt her relation to Sherlock). But when she was around Mina, she was constantly competing with her, and she, too, became ridiculous around the romantic interests. This being said, I must admit that I really liked how the Author portrayed Irene Adler; she got her down very well. Sherlock makes only a very brief appearance, and I didn't have anything to complain about in that area (thank goodness). As for the romantic interests . . . . I totally didn't trust Pix, Dylan wasn't really in it enough for me to form an opinion, and I wanted to like Inspector Grayling - as a character, he was great. It was the love triangle that made me resent his presence.

The Romance: Evaline Stoker has only one love interest (for now) in the shape of Pix, a young man working the streets and who most definitely isn't what he appears. He always seems to show up in the most peculiar places and can't say anything without it sound suspiciously like a lie. Pix was too flirtatious, too presumptuous, too untrustworthy. Sometimes slightly rakish love interests can work - but not in this case. Now, Mina has two young men in her life: Inspector Grayling, who gives her a run in the art of deduction, and Dylan - a young man who just . . . shows up because he is, in fact, from the year 2016. Yeah, more on that later. As I said earlier, I liked Grayling's personality. But I came to resent his presence because of how Mina behaved around him. Rather than accepting his help in the murder investigation, she immediately goes on the defensive because he's a gentleman and just as brilliant as she is. One could say that of course a Holmes would not like someone who was of equal intellect, but it somehow didn't come across that way with Mina. Rather, it felt like forced tension in a love triangle. Dylan . . . Dylan was just a whole element to the story that was random and didn't make a whole lot of sense. It goes without saying that whenever any of these love interests were present, the two girls became very silly indeed. Mina's cool intelligence went out the window and she became a twitter-pated, short-of-breath, blushing girl, while Evaline . . . Well, she was the same way. But it was worse with Mina because she was supposed to be related to Sherlock Holmes. And when I say that the romance is sonic fast, I mean it. Both girls need only clap their eyes on their respective boys before they're head-over-heels in love. Roll eyes.

Plot: In a steampunk Victorian London, Sherlock Holmes is more than a fictional character; he's real. And he has a niece, young Mina Holmes, who shows Holmesish traits in her knack for solving mysteries, spending hours in her laboratory, and of course her nose. Bram Stoker is also more than a mere writer of plays and the famous Gothic novel Dracula. For centuries, Stokers have hunted the UnDead such as the Count Dracula. Not every Stoker is born to be a vampire hunter, but Bram's young sister Mina is lucky enough to be gifted with the superior strength, speed, and rapid healing that is so important to their line of work. One fine evening, both girls are invited to a mysterious meeting with Miss Irene Adler - the one woman who ever outsmarted Sherlock Holmes. She now heads a secret society that investigates the abnormal as well as highly delicate investigations. Their first case involves the murder of one young society girl and the disappearance of another. Scotland Yard has declared the murder to be a suicide, but Irene Adler thinks very differently. On the scene of each crime, a bizarre clockwork scarab has been found. It's up to Mina Holmes and Evaline Stoker to solve the case, but first the girls need to set aside their differences and disagreements. So the general premise is really cool, and the mystery itself is very engaging. The problem is our narrators/protagonists, who spend so much time complaining about each other and being all fainty over boys. And there were other problems. The time travel, for one, was random and sudden and . . . just . . . why is it there?! What is the point of Dylan? I really hope this is explained in later books. And then there's this alternate steampunk London. I loved the steampunk flair and all that, but I was a little confused at times about the layout of this new London. At times it sounded like London was floating. Or some of the buildings were floating? And there were different levels of streets? I was confused.

Believability: Not wholly applicable. Because this is alternate timeline Victorian London, I am forced to swallow my protests against the inaccurate clothing.

Writing Style: First person, past tense. Each chapter alternated between Evaline and Mina as narrators, which would have been nice had I liked them better. Halfway through, though, I got tired of being locked inside their heads. The style itself, though, was very good indeed! I really loved the writing style, despite the Author's tendency to use the word "drat" and eye rolling too much.

Content: None.

Conclusion: Okay, the climax was too perilous, too dragged out. And the villain monologued too much. I don't think that this series is exactly a failure. I think it still has potential that may or may not be realized. I have to read a few more books before I make that decision. The Clockwork Scarab had a great concept, and the characters could have been absolutely brilliant. But the biggest stumbling block was the romance (not surprisingly) and I dearly hope that that gets fixed in later installments. So while I cannot give this first book in a planned series the rating I wanted to, I am still withholding my judgment of entire series.

Recommended Audience: Girl-read, sixteen-and-up, fans of steampunk and mystery. Sherlockians, too, will enjoy this to an extent. The Author knows the Canon, and Mina would have been good . . . if it hadn't been for the romance.

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