In this set up for a series, Mina Holmes, niece of Sherlock, and Evaline Stoker, sister of Bram, team up to investigate the death of several young society women in a steam punk 1889 London. Gleason has done an excellent job of establishing a cast of charismatic characters, a cohesive and inventive world, and a mystery-solving duo.
I really liked this odd couple pairing: prim and detail-oriented Mina and impetuous, action-oriented Evaline start off, as in all the best buddy movies, not really getting each other, though, of course, by the end they have a grudging appreciation for each other’s skills. The setting is brilliantly realized: The crowded multi-level streets of London hum with steam cycles, and air ships keep the tall buildings straight. The lack, indeed outlawing, of electricity requires all sorts of ingenious devices to keep life ticking along and there is some pretty intricate clothing detail too, which tells us both something about the way women are expected to behave as well as how our young ladies get around it.
However, though the mystery itself is intriguing, it doesn’t resolve satisfactorily. I appreciate the author wants to spread the chase over several more books, which is fine – but I do feel that each book needs to be complete, rather than just an inconclusive chapter in a longer story.
Even though this book should be a great girl power title, there’s quite a lot of dimwitted behavior from both young women, which can feel a little out of character and really only serves the plot. In addition, I felt there was waaay too much heart fluttering from both Mina and Evaline, though the arm wrestling match does pack a genuine erotic frisson. And don’t get me started on the accents!
For me, all the elements didn’t quite click together, but I suspect a second book (The Spiritglass Charade is due out in October) will be more coherent as the author works with established characters in an established world.