Series: BASKERVILLE AFFAIR TRILOGY
Plot Type: Steampunk Fantasy Romance
Ratings: Violence-4; Sensuality-2-3; Humor-3
Publisher and Titles: Del Rey
" The Adventure of the Wollaston Ritual" (free story)
A Study in Silks (9/2013)
"The Strange and Alarming Courtship of Miss Imogen Roth" (free story)
A Study in Darkness (10/2013)
"The Steamspinner Mutiny" (free story; 11/2013)
Here's your chance to start a brand new series and not have to wait a year for the next book. This is a well-written series with a saga-type story line that follows a small group of characters through a crucial period in their lives. I highly recommend it.
Here's what the author has to say about her new series (on her web site): "It has something to do with bad dogs in Dartmoor, but why stop there? We have a prince, automatons, sorcerers, sundry pirates, talking mice, a large mechanical caterpillar, castles, ballrooms and murder. And, yes, Holmes and Watson take their turn upon the stage. What type of stories are these? They are one part mystery, two parts adventure and a wee pinch of romance."
Holloway has taken Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes character, placed him a steampunk world, and provided a fascinating new twist to "The Hound of the Baskervilles" story. (Click on the story title to go to a full-text free version.) She also gives Sherlock a feisty young niece. Familiar Holmesian characters turn up throughout the series, including Dr. Watson, Holmes' sidekick; Mycroft, his brother; Mrs. Hudson, his landlady; Inspector Lestrade, his Scotland Yard colleague; and Professor Moriarty, his arch enemy. In this series, Sherlock (who was born about 1854) is in his mid-thirties, and he is already famous for his detection skills,
The barons do not allow any other type of power to be used—only their own. For example, a baker can't use a wood fire; he must use coal purchased from the Blue King. "The steam barons ran their companies and, by extension, certain towns and neighborhoods with a combination of bribes and threats. Each baron had one or more streetkeepers—bully boys who turned threats into broken bones. A shopkeeper sold what the local steam baron told him to, and painted his steps…to show which baron had his allegiance. If he broke the rules, his gas went out and his pipes ran cold—and there was no place to buy his own coal. If he continued in this disobedience, more than his lights would be snuffed out." (A Study in Silks, p. 85) If anyone protests, their power is cut off completely—and so is their social status. This is called being Disconnected, and it's a fate almost worse than death. If a family is Disconnected, their credit is ruined, their bank accounts disappear, and their party invitations stop coming. They find the doors to their social clubs barred to them, and their children are expelled from their schools. Eventually, these families disappear, sinking into obscurity, and their names are never mentioned again. Some people who speak out against the barons are quietly killed, chopped up, and dumped into near-by rivers. Despite the danger, a group of dissenters is forming, calling themselves the Baskerville rebels. As the series develops, this group grows larger, more powerful, and central to the plot.
The steam barons crush all attempts at competition by keeping a stranglehold on all supplies of machinery and parts. "The reason for the situation was simple: the steam barons didn't want even a suggestion of competition. Rivals had unsuccessfully tried other inventions to produce power, such as the combustion engine, only to see their companies crumble beneath the steam lobby's economic hammer." (A Study in Silks, p. 79) As the barons have figured out, if you can't get parts, you can't build a machine—and that snuffs out all competition.
Most people recognize the existence of magic and magic users, but the barons crush all magic that they find. "With the rise of industry, magic—impossible to measure, regulate, or rule—was banned by Church and state, and especially by the steam barons who controlled so much with their vast wealth. Fortune-tellers and mediums were usually tolerated as amusing if immoral tricksters. Anyone claiming to use real power was subject to jail and probably execution or—if there was some suspicion they actually had the Blood—a trip to her Majesty's laboratories for testing." (A Study in Silks, p. 19) The barons fear that if magic users can create power to run machines, no one will need the barons' utilities, thus taking money from the barons' coffers. To deter the practice of magic, the barons maintain armies of ruffians to keep the country free of magic users, many of whom have been kidnapped and sent to an experimental laboratory run by sadistic "scientists."
The series heroine is an orphan named Evelina Cooper. Her aristocratic mother married an English military officer who died in service before Evelina was old enough to know him. Her mother's parents—the Holmes family (her mother was the brother of Sherlock and Mycroft) turned their backs on Evelina and her child, so she found a home with her late husband's family, circus performers who happened to have a bit to the Blood—magical Blood, that is. Evelina's mother soon died, and Evelina was raised by her father's mother and performed as a trapeze artist until her Grandfather Holmes died and her Grandmother Holmes swept in and carried her away to become a lady. Evelina would like to go to college, but her Grandmother insists that she find a husband and live the life of a lady. When Evelina is confronted with a horrible murder at the beginning of book 1, she can't resist investigating. After all, half of her genes come from the Holmes family. The other half of her genes come from her father, and that means that Evelina, too, has the Blood and is always in danger of arrest and possible execution as a magic user. That's why she is so secretive about her magic. But will she be able to keep it a secret much longer?
Luckily for readers, the three books are coming just months (instead of the usual years) apart, so you can read one and still remember all of the characters and events of the previous one.
PREQUEL SHORT STORY: "The Adventure of the Wollaston Ritual"
Click HERE to read this novella in its entirety. The story takes place at Wollaston Academy for Young Ladies just before Evelina and Imogen graduate. The events that occur here directly involve Violet Asterley-Henderson, a supporting character in novels 2 and 3. As the story opens, the Rector of Wollaston discovers an opened grave in his church's cemetery—the burial place of Tom Cannon, a young man whose funeral had been held just a few weeks before. The rector immediately realizes that although the body is gone from the grave, it still lingers near by in an undead form. Obviously someone has used a spell to raise Tom and bring him back to a shambling, zombie life. Who was the magic user? How does Evelina get involved? What is Violet's role? Those questions are answered by the end of this 61-page story. Click HERE to read or download the free story.
This is a nice background story that introduces Evelina and Imogen, the two leading ladies of the series, but it has little to do with the plot of A Study in Silks. The incident is referred to several times in A Study in Darkness but only in passing. This is the only time a zombie makes an appearance in this series.
NOVEL 1: A Study in Silks
>Evelina Cooper: She is currently living in the home of Lord Bancroft, the father of her best friend, Imogen Roth. She secretly practices magic, principally by binding nature spirits to two clockwork animals: a bird and a mouse. She uses the creatures as her spies. Evelina pines for her sweetheart, Nick, but she is also mightily attracted to Lord Bancroft's son, Tobias. Thus we have the three sides of the romantic triangle for this series. Evelina and Nick are both of the Blood, which means that they are magic users. Unfortunately, their magic has so far proved to be incompatible, so they believe that they are doomed to be apart.
>Nick (aka Niccolo)—no last name because he's an orphan: He is Evelina's childhood sweetheart, and they still love one another. Nick stayed with the circus after Evelina left, but now the circus is in London and he sneaks into her room for a long-overdue reunion, hoping to rekindle their romance. When that doesn't pan out, he gets involved with one of the story's villains: Dr. Magnus. Always, though, he believes that his first duty is to protect Evelina from harm.
>Dr. Symeon Magnus: He is a dark sorcerer with many irons in the fire. He wants to grab some of the barons' power, and he plans to do that with his magic. When he discovers that Evelina has extremely powerful, untapped magical talent, he attempts to convince her—first verbally, and then by force—to come away with him. Nick has to step in to protect Evelina.
>Jasper Keating (aka the Gold King): He is a cold-hearted, merciless, greedy, remorseless predator who will stop at nothing to squelch all opposition to his actions and demands. He has a young daughter, Alice, whom he listens to and adores—his only weakness (at least so far).
>Lord Bancroft: A pathetic nobleman who wants to advance, but has so far been unsuccessful. He is deep in dangerous trouble as he is the leader of a group that has been attempting to pull a con game on Keating. He and his three fellow plotters have intercepted a shipload of ancient Greek antiques and have removed the gold and precious gems and replaced them with gold-plated silver and glass "jewels." That scheme gradually falls apart as the story progresses and provides one of the primary keys to the conflict: an ancient magical gold box called Athena's Casket. Additionally, Bancroft lost heavily when he invested in a rival power company that was destroyed by the barons. Now he is on the barons' enemies list—to the point that his home is Disconnected at one point in the story.
>Imogen Roth: She is Evelina's good friend, and they routinely share deep secrets with one another. Imogen knows that Imogen wields magic, but she'll never tell anyone. As the story opens, Imogen is on the verge of her first Season—the string of balls and parties at which she is supposed to attract a suitable husband. When she realizes that the man she wants is her brother's best friend, she can hardly believe it. Neither can her father, who is completely opposed to the relationship.
>Tobias Roth: He is Imogen's brother and Lord Bancroft's heir. Tobias is the stereotypical rich pretty boBlay who spends his time only on his own amusement, which consists primarily of drinking and womanizing. But Tobias is also a talented maker—a creator of clockwork machines—and he maintains a secret workshop that he shares with three of his like-minded friends. When Lord Bancroft commands Tobias to seduce Evelina to take her mind off solving the maid's murder (and thus keeping Uncle Sherlock out of the investigation), Tobias agrees, but almost immediately he falls for Evelina. That doesn't stop him from making some very bad decisions that eventually drive them apart.
The story takes place between April 4 and April 14—10 days, and it is a lengthy 531 pages (approximately 50 pages per day). Obviously there's a lot going on, particularly when a number of events are replayed from varying perspectives. For me, though, the story didn't drag much, except at the very beginning which had to include a lot of world-building. Each of the days is filled with a variety of dangerous and/or romantic events that build in suspense, so the scenes blow by at a compelling, page-turning pace. Most of the characters are well developed, with the exception of the barons, who are all totally evil wretches with absolutely no redeeming character traits. The primary characters have both strengths and flaws (always the sign of a thoughtful author), and it is usually the flaws that lead them to make terrible decisions that have widespread, often heart-breaking consequences. Based on book 1, this looks to be a strong series, and I'm looking forward to book 2. Click HERE to go to a web page with links to excerpts to all three novels in this series.
SHORT STORY 2: "The Strange and Alarming Courtship of Imogen Roth"
Click HERE to read this free short story in its entry. The main event of this story is the duel that takes place between Buckingham (Bucky) Penner and Captain Diogenes Smythe, both suitors of Imogen Roth. Smythe is an arrogant military man, the son of and earl who tries to come between Bucky and Imogen. Bucky is the son of a wealthy gun-manufacture. He loves to spend his time creating clockwork toys. The duel results when Smythe lies to Imogen about Bucky, and Bucky demands an apology. That duel doesn't end like any duel you've ever read about, but the ending is deliciously satisfying.
This is a great little story (62 pages) that will give you a fine appreciation of the state of affairs between Bucky and Imogen and between Bucky and Smythe in A Study in Darkness and A Study in Ashes. Click HERE to read or download the free story.
NOVEL 2: A Study in Darkness
In the meantime, Evelina is staying with Uncle Sherlock, after having spent several boring months in the country with Grandma Holmes. When a hit man sets off a bomb in Sherlock's apartment, both Sherlock and Evelina want to know who wants Sherlock—or Evelina—killed, injured, or warned. It is at this point that we first meet the Schoolmaster, who will become increasingly important to the series story arc.
The Whitechapel district of London is the setting for much of the action in this book. In 1888, a killer nicknamed Jack the Ripper by the newspapers, was terrorizing Whitechapel, butchering young women in the dead of night. This serial killer plays a major role in the story.
Once again, the story is told in the third person from the perspective of a number of characters:
>Evelina: When Keating (the Gold King) catches Evelina kissing Tobias (who is engaged to Keating's pregnant daughter), he blackmails Evelina into working for him by threatening to ruin her reputation and to injure or kill her Uncle Sherlock. He assigns her the task of spying on the Blue King and locating his maker—the craftsman (or magician) who constructs the Blue King's clockwork weapons. Evelina moves to the run-down and dangerous Whitechapel district, where she is horrified to discover that Magnus is still alive. She becomes his apprentice, even though she fears that using dark magic will eventually endanger her soul. As Evelina learns more and more dark magic from Magnus, she struggles to keep from being drawn completely to the dark side. But if she doesn't call on her dark powers, her life and the lives of her loved ones are in danger.
>Nick: He is pining for Evelina and gradually getting involved with the Baskerville rebels. He still has Athena's Casket, and with the help of Athena and a flock of sentient ash rooks (huge crow-like birds), his ship is able to out-maneuver any ship the barons send after him. Striker has become Nick's second in command.
>Imogen Palmer: She is having horrible nightmares about the White Chapel murders (Jack the Ripper's work). She knows what happens even before she reads about them in the newspapers, which frightens her deeply. The Red King is making a play for her hand, but she is in love with Buckingham (Bucky) Penner, even though her father has banned Bucky from their home.
>Tobias Palmer: In order to keep his sisters and mother safe, Tobias marries Alice Keating even though he is in love with Evelina. Tobias is also forced to become Keating's maker—the designer of the Gold King's fearsome clockwork weapons.
>Alice Keating Palmer: When Tobias rejects her on their wedding night and cancels their European honeymoon, Alice realizes that she has entered into a loveless marriage, but she plans to make the best of it. She is several months pregnant at the time of her marriage.
>Magnus: After almost dying from the injuries he suffered in his battle with Nick and Striker (in book 1), Magnus is still recovering his powers. He is now running a puppetry show in Whitechapel. His life-size automatons present nightly musical programs for the bored and wealthy young sons of aristocratic families. The star of his show is Serafina, the automaton that Tobias thought he destroyed in book 1. Keep your eye on Serafina because she becomes increasingly important to the story line.
>Lord Bancroft: He continues his attempts to gain more power with the rebels with behind-the-scenes financial support. Magnus is still using Bancroft's original automatons as a means of blackmail, and in this book we learn the whole tragic story that explains why Bancroft will do anything to get those automatons back—one automaton in particular.
>Sherlock Holmes: He has several tasks in this novel: to find Evelina, who has dropped out of sight; to outwit the Blue King, who wants him to solve the White Chapel/Jack the Ripper murders; to figure out just how involved his brother Mycroft is with the rebels; to outwit the Gold King's thugs, who are following him everywhere and intercepting his mail.
As the plot progresses, the rebellion begins to take form and grow in power; the steam barons claw at each other's throats; and the three young couples (Evelina-Nick; Imogen-Bucky; Tobias-Alice) experience setbacks in their romantic lives.
This is another compelling page turner, with a complexly plotted story and well-drawn characters. My only problem with this book is that the plot has several improbable points that serve mostly to move the story in the right direction for the author to resolve the conflict. Characters (usually Evelina) make terrible decisions, make huge leaps in logic based on few facts, and behave in uncharacteristic manners. Some actions and events were somewhat puzzling in their purpose (e.g., Mycroft's bizarre letter writing). All in all, though, Holloway is a great story teller who interweaves her many story threads in an interesting and readable manner. Even with its huge cast of characters, each with an individual story line, the story flows right along, buoyed up by inventive clockwork gadgetry, continuing character development, compelling action scenes, and a constant building of suspense. Although the main characters face some big problems in this book, all of their angst, heartbreak, and fears feed directly into the big finale that comes in book 3. Click HERE to go to a web page with links to excerpts from all three novels in this series.
To review: Back at the beginning of the series, Striker was a streetkeeper (hired thug) for one of the steam barons, but eventually he and Nick teamed up to fight against the barons, and Striker became Nick's second in command on the Red Jack.
Although the Athena is nearly ready for launch, Striker keeps delaying because he hopes that Nick made it out of the Red Jack alive and will be joining them. Unfortunately, Striker has had to hire three new crew members from another wrecked pirate ship, and they don't care anything about waiting for Nick. As soon as the Athena is ready for sail, they try to take over the ship so that they can go off and rescue their former captain.
The story follows Striker as he deals with the mutiny and finds friendship in a ragged mutt of a dog that wakes him up in a thunderstorm after he is hit by lightning and survives—adding to the myth of his magical good luck.
Striker has always been an interesting character, with his rough-and-tough attitude and his strange appearance: “He’d sewed the scraps of metal onto the long duster himself, and had taken care to cover every available inch. It was both armor and a portable supply chest—gears and plates and any other parts a maker might use but were hard to find, and wearing them made them harder to steal. It also made the coat too heavy for most to even lift, let alone wear, from daybreak to dark.” Striker loves Nick like a brother—the first real friend he has ever had—and he just can't bring himself to believe that Nick is gone forever. This is a nice little story that provides additional depth to a quirky continuing character in the series.
NOVEL 3: A Study in Ashes
Even with its smattering of weak elements, this is a terrific series, filled with great characters, creative clockwork machines, inventive story lines, lots of action and suspense, and an all-around satisfying resolution. All of the story lines, though, are not resolved, so I’m sure we’ll be hearing more from this fictional steampunk world in the form of future novellas and/or novels. Click HERE to go to a web page with links to excerpts from all three novels in this series.