I'm a somewhat impatient reader. I don't mind a long book, but it has to be worth the investment, and I felt that this very, very long book was not worth the time and effort that I have devoted to it.
This book has the feel of Anne Perry's Charlotte & Thomas Pitt series, without the sensible plot development, without the complex character development, with a largely forgettable cast. What it does have (to its detriment), is a predictable and stupid love triangle, a boring main character---who, I must be honest, doesn't even feel like a main character, because she feels sidelined by the needlessly large side cast, an overly complicated plot, and a cliffhanger.
There are several rather...questionable words used to describe people of certain races. Words like Negro, and Chinaman. Fine, I accept that those words were probably used quite freely during that time era, but I do question the author's choice in including such words in her work, particularly in this day and age, when they are so offensive. It's just my personal pet peeve.
Don't be fooled by the cover...our heroine is nowhere as cool in the book. Evelina Cooper is the niece of Sherlock Holmes, whose connection is tenuous and barely mentioned throughout much of the book. She is caught between two worlds, the one she was born to: that of the Gypsy and their traveling circus, and one to which she was adopted: that of upper-middle-class respectability. Evelina has a secret, she has magic (also referred to as having the Blood); this is a dangerous skill to have, and one that must remain hidden, because in this steampunk version of Victorian England, magic is illegal and the discovery could lead to her execution.
During an extended stay with her friend Imogen Roth, daughter of Viscount Roth, Lord Bancroft, she finds some highly illegal automatons (robots), and is involved in the discovery of a servant girl's death, all in one night. She sets out to solve the girl's death, with an ulterior motive which has me gritting my teeth---she merely doesn't want her beloved best friend to be embroiled in scandal during her Season, despite the fact that someone in the household may be the murderer. So much for impartiality; Sherlock Holmes would be so disappointed in his niece.
But wait! That's not all. I only wish that Evelina's determination to solve the murder mystery was the only plotline...then this book might have been tolerable. Nope nope nope. We have numerous other plotlines to be resolved, which ultimately ends in me having a headache.
The book is told from a third-person POV, with multiple narratives. You may think this is Evelina's book. You would be wrong. Her character and story feels completely sidelined by the much overly complicated plot and numerous side narratives of the other characters. For example, we get the narrative of: Nick (Evelina's former love, from her old life), Tobias Roth (golden son of Viscount Roth), Imogen (Evelina's best friend), Jasper Keating (a steam baron), Lord Bancroft. Most of the narratives just added to the confusion of the plot, and some--like Imogen's, added absolutely nothing more than giving us insight into a young woman's view of the Season and her potential suitors. The first half of the book was frankly, a pain to read through, because the various plot strings have not yet come together, and it just added to my frustration to have to follow multiple conspiracies from multiple perspectives. The book is far too complicated, and far too long.
- We have Evelina trying to solve the mystery of a servant's death.
- We have Evelina concealing evidence and trying to solve the mystery of the various items she stole off the corpse, as well as detecting the traces of magic on it.
- We have the steam barons seeking to consolidate their power.
- We have one particular steam baron seeking a magical artifact.
- We have Lord Bancroft plotting against the steam barons.
- We have a mysterious shadowy figure with an unknown motive.
- We have magic and demons in play.
- We have Sherlock Holmes drawn unwittingly into the scheme at some point.
- We have playboys involved in juvenile bets, like almost setting a fucking theatre on fire and killing everyone for the sake of amusement.
- We have side characters doing their own investigation while investigating yet more things for someone who hired them.
- We have a love triangle.
- We have Evelina trying to go about her Season and being presented to the Queen.
- We have Evelina's best friend trying to find a husband.
It is just altogether too fucking much.
The world building is interesting; it is a steampunk version of England in every sense of the word, because steam rules the day. The steam barons are a council of very powerful men and women who control England behind the scenes because of the power, literally, that they wield. England runs on power, on steam, and these people hold England more or less hostage.
The steam barons ran their companies and, by extension, certain towns and neighborhoods with a combination of bribes and threats.
“Can you imagine what would happen if Parliament challenged them, and the Steam Council stopped supplying coal and gas?”
“There would be riots in the streets. If it went on long enough, the government would fall.”
"Steam may be the engine that drives the Empire, but the steam barons are the knife at its throat.”
Magic is hated and feared, particularly by the steam barons, because its mysterious origins run contrary to their investment. If magic could power things, then the steam barons would be run out of business. Thus, magic is illegal, and to be tried as a witch is a surefire sentence of execution. Steam barons can also show their power to those who disobey by Disconnecting---or effectively cutting off electricity and power---to a household it deemed unworthy.
An intriguing premise...but the delivery is not so effective. While the explanation of the power of steam is quite grandiose...the extent of how steam and electricity is used is, well, not so impressive. The power of the steam barons is mostly told, not shown. From what we see in the book, steam is mostly used to power tea trolleys in the house, in sauce-dispensing machines for dinner parties, and for pretty decorative lights outside of wealthy people's houses.
There is a slight inclusion of magic, there are elemental creatures called devas, which are largely controlled by Evelina for the purpose of spying. There are hints of demonic possessions. The use of magic is there, but the inclusion of it just didn't interest me, and it didn't really feel like it meshed well with the plot overall.
Evelina: She is smart...but her investigative skills leave a lot to be desired. She is completely biased, she sets out her investigation with a purpose in mind: to save her friend's family from scandal, so in this caase, her skills as a credible detective is highly questionable. Evelina doesn't change at all throughout the novel. Her character lacks the development and the complexity, we see her doing a lot of things, but there's very little insight into her mind, and I personally do not feel that she matures at all. I like that she is intelligent, I like that she wants to pursue her education, and that she likes mechanical things and tinkering around with engineering, but there is a serious lack of depth and insight into her personality.
To be honest, Evelina feels like a Mary Sue at times, she is too perfect...and she never feel like she fits in. "She was caught between, half gentry and half vagabond, two halves that never knit properly together." She knows how to act like a lady, and she knows how to walk on a tightrope. She is:
...a beauty. Skin like the moon and hair like a starless night
Evelina is too much. She is unbelievable.It is not that she is an annoying character, Evelina is quite tolerable, even if she does incredibly stupid things (like hang upside down outside a window in the middle of the night), but I'm just not attached to her character.
Tobias & Nick: I'm going to lump the two love interests together, because they are such horrible tropes. Nick is the Indomitable Niccolo, the circus knife-throwing man. The mysterious, dark, handsomely swarthy bad boy who loves Evelina from afar and is too far beneath her socially to entertain dreams of having a future with her. Tobias is the golden-haired playboy, a secretly brilliant engineer, the son and heir of a Viscountancy, completely out of Evelina's league. He knows that she's beyond his status, but of course, he selfishly pursues her anyway. I hated both of them; both men are completely unoriginal, and can be found in various reincarnations in 99.7% of the substandard PNR/fantasies in existence.
Apparently, Tobias and Nick can be compared to ships! Shiiiiips!
Tobias would have been something beautifully crafted and elegant with lots of white sails—the meeting place of tradition and innovation.
Nick, on the other hand, would have been a sleek pirate ship. He already had the gold rings in his ears.
Broken record here, but the romance and love triangle is stupid. For Nick, Evelina has "always been the only girl who’d ever made his whole being come alive just by walking into a room." Um. They grew up together, they last saw each other when she was 14, and he was 17. That's a little creepy. And for Nick to continue feeling that way about her 5 years later...it's unrealistic.
And Tobias, well...trope aside, they had a lovely little moment of attraction...
The top buttons of his shirt were undone, his collar gone. She could see the smooth pale arc of his throat. Beneath the scent of brandy, she could smell smoke, as if he’d been standing next to a steam engine.
He crouched next to her. He was so near, she could feel the heat of his body, and it was all she could do not to lean even closer.
Cute, right? Well, not exactly. Because they're both hovering over a mutilated corpse.
...a dead body. Not just dead, but violently dead. The straggling hair was matted with blood...The dead woman’s face was obscured by the tumble of her hair, but Evelina could see the throat had been slashed from ear to ear.
Sooooooooooo romantic! Yeah, you can see where this goes.
Not recommended. Too long of a book for too little return in pleasure of reading.