If the names Stoker and Holmes sound familiar, they should.
Evaline Stoker comes from a long line of vampire hunters. She has incredible strength, courage and agility, as well as a sort of recklessness. The Stokers are among high societies most celebrated families, thus forcing Evaline to be both ruffian and debutante. She definitely prefers the ruffian part.
Mina Holmes is the daughter of Mycroft Holmes, and niece of the legendary Sherlock Holmes. She definitely takes after her uncle, spending hours and days working in her laboratory. She has all of London memorized, all the way down to the train schedules and where to get the best roasted carrots. Her powers of observation and deduction are fantastic: she can read people in a trice. Her social skills, and ability to deal with other people? Lacking.
So when Irene Adler—Sherlock’s one-time nemesis—summons the two young ladies to the British Museum late one night, she knows the two will be like oil and water: awkward and contentious. Ms. Adler trusts, though, that a mutual respect will develop, and the two will be a formidable team.
Irene Adler is correct.
The reason the two are called to the museum is simple. Somebody is killing young society women, and making the murders look like suicides. Also, a strange cult devoted to the Goddess Sekhmet is behind the abductions. When the girls go missing, the Sekhmet followers leave behind a scarab, presumably as a warning.
Mina Holmes and Evaline Stoker are entrusted by The Crown to investigate.
The way the book is set up, the chapters alternate between Miss Holmes and Miss Stoker, giving us a sense of how each one works. Miss Holmes comes off as being priggish. She’s a complete know-it-all, and she lacks the social skills to know when to hold her tongue.
Miss Stoker initially can’t stand Miss Holmes for just that reason. Evaline is strong and skilled in combat, and she has little patience for an intellectual show-off who thinks she knows everything, (even if she just about does).
“The Clockwork Scarab” took a while to catch its rhythm. This is not really a fault. It’s just that the two heroines are so incredibly different. They have to go through a few adventures together before the mutual trust and respect come through. They learn how each other works, even if they still don’t quite mesh professionally.
By the end of “The Clockwork Scarab,” they are a bona fide team. Almost—heaven forfend—friends.
Author Colleen Gleason creates a stark, dystopian 1889 London. It would take pages for me to describe this dissonant world, but it serves as a perfect backdrop to the story, and is almost as much a character as any human.
Ms. Gleason takes on some big challenges. One is to control how the girls’ families come into play. Thankfully, she does this well: Mina Holmes has studied her famous uncle’s methods, and has acute observation skills, and amazing deduction powers.
Evaline Stoker is a bit easier to draw, since her elder brother is just working on his famous novel.
So, Colleen Gleason has to make these opposite characters work together, while creating a completely different London.
She succeeds on all counts. Again, this book takes a while to catch fire, but it’s worth the wait, as the two young women fight through dangerous situations together, and a tenuous feeling of teamwork takes over.
The book has an excellent climax, and in the denouement, we see how the two have come together.
By the end of “The Clockwork Scarab,” I felt like I’d enjoyed reading a good story. What truly excited me, though, was that with Mina and Evaline now a team, this novel has perfectly set up what should be one hell of an awesome series.
(nb: I received a review copy from the publisher via Edelweiss)