Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Study in Silks (The Baskerville Affair, #1) by Emma Jane Holloway

Though Evelina Cooper is gentry, she is a woman caught between worlds.  As the niece of the famous detective Sherlock Holmes, when a young maid is murdered she is determined to find justice but at the same time Evelina must be careful as her best friend's family is indicated in wrong doing.  If that were not enough, Evelina is pulled by her past when her lost childhood love makes an appearance. With him comes the danger of discovering she is a magical person in a society that has outlawed magic.

Holmes and the famous Dr. Watson make an appearance in this story. As someone who has never read the Sherlock Holmes novels, I cannot speak to how accurate the portrayal is.  I did, however, enjoy the detective greatly and felt that he added great tension to the story.

There are several strong female characters in the novel.  As the protagonist, Evelina was completely enjoyable.  She is smart and even though Evelina is pulled between two men, she never gets so caught up in the romance that she loses sight of who she is and what is important to her.  Tobias is ordered to seduce Evelina and his love for her stops him from ruining her reputation; however Evelina is quite clear that regardless of his motivations, she cannot afford him. Even Niccolo, her long lost circus performer love, who she is terribly attracted to is desperate for her love but she is too well aware that a life with him is the path to danger because together they cannot control the magic that flows.

Though A Study in Silks is a classic steampunk novel, there are strong elements of magic in it.  I enjoyed that Holloway was accurate and portrayed how magic witch hunts invariably are problematic for women.  It is women who prosecuted and attacked by flimsy evidence in order to control them.  Evelina is well aware that though she uses her power for the good, if discovered it could mean becoming subject for scientific investigation or worse yet, death.  It is clear that in the books to come, Holloway intends to expand upon this theme.

In a society that is dominated by men, Evelina is not afraid to invent or use the resources available to her.  I did however find that her agency was undercut the moment that Holmes became active as a part of the investigation.  Instead of leading, Evelina seemed more than happy to hand the reigns over to the famous detective and follow his lead.  It would have been better had a true partnership existed between the two.

The second female character of note is Imogen.  She is a true young lady of society.  As much as Imogen is up for the adventure of discovering who murdered the poor maid, she too is well aware of the danger and the necessity of keeping her family's secrets privates.  Imogen is very frail and yet she follows Evelina into danger with great aplomb. Unlike her mother, taking to her bed is something that Imogen refuses to do now that the game is afoot. Even though Imogen's mother had been dealt a great shock when she learned of her husbands affair and his business dealings, the very idea of grown women taking to their bed is disturbing.

Like with most steampunk novels, A Study in Silks is highly erased.  The few characters of colour who make an appearance are quickly killed off as part of an intriguing plot.  They are essentially little more than cannon fodder.  No GLBT characters make an appearance whatsoever. The great work that Holloway did to give us vibrant female characters cannot erase the harm that such erasure does.

A Study In Silks is 560 pages long.  Normally, in a book this long, there is needless repetition, or simply an overly long drawn out story.  This is not the case with A Study In Silks.  The mystery is absolutely engaging leaving the reader desperate to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together.  If anything, at times the writing is sparse. Holloway denies the temptation to get lost in her world by refusing to fill her novel with ridiculous hyperbole or overwrought descriptions.  Each and every word is measured and ever so necessary to the story.  I was absolutely captivated by Holloway as a story teller and look forward most anxiously to reading  A Study in Darkness (The Baskerville Affair, #2).

Editors Note: A copy of this book was received from Netgalley