A Study in Silks by Emma Jane Holloway
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“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. As Sherlock Holmes’s niece, Evelina should be able to find the answers, but she has a lot to learn. And the first decision she has to make is whether to trust the handsome, clever rake who makes her breath come faster, or the dashing trick rider who would dare anything for her if she would only just ask.”
I’ve never read the original Sherlock Holmes novels, but I am familiar with the general tone of the stories and the major characters. The tales are considered to be classics of the mystery genre, and that’s a legacy that an author might it find it hard to match up to with a modern take. Holloway does an excellent job, creating her own characters and worldbuilding touches. At the same time, she lets Holmes and Watson sneak in a few dramatic appearances that don’t overshadow the real main character.
I’m not always keen on steampunk novels, because many of them rely too heavily on the steam technology aspect with little explanation as to why it’s still prevalent. I was incredibly happy to find that this author not only provided an explanation, but provided a good one. That allowed me to more easily suspend my disbelief and just enjoy the steampunk elements for what they were. That’s not to say that those parts are just window-dressing to the rest of the tale—they are an integral part of the plot, and that’s another welcome change from the norm.
The worldbuilding overall was really quite good. The novel captures the atmosphere of Victorian London and does a believable job of weaving in the steampunk elements. The author includes just enough details of clothing, machinery and custom to set the tone, but not enough to slow down the narrative. It was very easy to become immersed in this particular version of nineteenth century England, and I hope that the other volumes venture beyond London and into the country at large.
Evelina is a character that I enjoyed getting to know. Her background gave her a plausible reason to be familiar with both high and low society, and this allowed her to tackle the novel’s mystery without relying on improbable events to get her the info that she needed. Her relationship with Sherlock Holmes gave her the necessary experience to make a good start of detective work, but not so much as to make her the kind of supergenius that we see in Holmes.
While there is something of a romance that winds through the pages of this book, the author again provides plausibility with the London tradition of a “Season”: the time when a young lady begins attending balls and gatherings with an eye to finding a suitable husband. This lets Holloway throw in some romance without fear that it will be out of place. She’s also wise enough not to let it overshadow the plot, for which I was grateful.
A Study in Silks is an entertaining take on Sherlock Holmes that doesn’t rely on the great detective himself to spin a good mystery yarn. Evelina is strong, smart and poised, and she’s a heroine that would fit into any Victorian novel with aplomb and grace. Add in a well-crafted setting and a lively plot and you’ve got a recipe for success.
Series: The Baskerville Affair
Publisher: Del Rey
Page Count: 560
Publication Date: September 24, 2013
Acquired: Provided by the publisher as an e-ARC through NetGalley
Read an excerpt