Title: A Study in Silks
Author: Emma Jane Holloway
Series: The Baskerville Affair, Book 1
Release Date: 24 September 2013
Evelina Cooper, the niece of the great Sherlock Holmes, is poised to enjoy her first Season in London's high society, but there's a murderer to deal with—not to mention missing automatons, a sorcerer, and a talking mouse . . .
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 expected a lot from this book when I started it - it's hard not to when the author puts Sherlock Holmes in the mix, even if we are dealing with his niece. While in some aspects it didn't disappoint, in others it sorely left me wanting.
Evelina is a great character, interesting and idealistic, but with a lot to learn. I liked that I got to see some of this growth and learning in this book; small things, but important nonetheless. Evelina tends to think things through thoroughly, to the point of hurting herself and others because she doesn't want to make the wrong choice and she's not entirely sure what the right choice is. She's very protective of those she loves, and incredibly clever.
When she first decides to take up the mystery of the murder it's with less than pure intentions; she does it because she wants to clear the Roth family from scandal - hardly something her uncle Sherlock would put as a good beginning to an investigation. But I liked that regardless of her own desires and hopes she followed the evidence where it went and didn't let her own personal biases color her course of action...too much.
I can't talk about this book without mentioning the love-triangle. It seems to be a common trope in most novels these days - especially multi-book series. Fortunately, the triangle here worked for me much better than most others. Part of this was because of Evelina herself, who was so pragmatic and absolutely genuine in her feelings, the rest because of the two young men. Up until nearly the very end I couldn't definitively settle on who I was rooting for. I finally was able to, when one character did something absolutely beyond the bounds of forgiveness for me, but it took me nearly 90% of A Study in Silks to decide. That's rare in most of the triangles I've read.
Neither of the young men is perfect. Tobias Roth, golden boy of the Roth family, is a dissolute rake, unable to determine his path or even what it should be. Nick, the Indomitable Niccolo, from Evelina's past brings some serious issues and roadblocks for both his and Evelina's safety to the table. They both do, I genuinely believe, care about Evelina though, perhaps not as purely as they'd like to think, but it's still there. I won't say much more because I don't want to give away who I ended up rooting for (though I do think Sherlock may perhaps be leaning the same way I am!)
The real problem in this novel is the pacing. For the first 85% of the book I was mostly bored, with moments of pure anticipation popping up here and there. There was too much exposition, too many plot threads - at one time I counted six - and too many point-of-view characters - seven, maybe eight, of these. Every time I got into the story I was pulled out by some other character's unnecessary and slow scene. I think that a good deal of the intrigue and mystery would have been preserved and kept things moving if we didn't have quite such a complete picture of all the players.
Sherlock himself does make a few appearances in the novel, and he steals every single scene he's in; to the point where I was hoping for more and more of him. The mystery aspect of the book has too many moving parts, I think. It made it hard to really care about any of it. It is easy to see, finally after finishing, that several of these things are not supposed to be tied up until further on in the series which does give me hope for the next couple of books. For now, they've made the plot overly complicated and unnecessarily boring for a good portion of the book.
It's clear that Emma Jane Holloway has created and intriguing and interestingly detailed world. I definitely wanted to spend more time in it, and see what it could possibly become out from under the tyranny it's currently bogged down under. I really wanted to love this book, it had a lot of elements that I normally would love, but I got bored so frequently that I wasn't even sure I was going to finish it until things finally picked up for good around 85% in. I did like it enough, though, that I'm going to continue on to the second book. I think there may be a bit of first book syndrome going on here and I'm invested in the characters and world enough that I want to see what happens with them. All this makes it really hard to grade.
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