Review: A Study in Darkness by Emma Jane Holloway
This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“When a bomb goes off at 221B Baker Street, Evelina Cooper is thrown into her uncle Sherlock’s world of mystery and murder. But just when she thought it was safe to return to the ballroom, old, new, and even dead enemies are clamoring for a place on her dance card.
Before Evelina’s even unpacked her gowns for a country house party, an indiscretion puts her in the power of the ruthless Gold King, who recruits her as his spy. He knows her disreputable past and exiles her to the rank alleyways of Whitechapel with orders to unmask his foe.
As danger mounts, Evelina struggles between hiding her illegal magic and succumbing to the darker aspects of her power. One path keeps her secure; the other keeps her alive. For rebellion is brewing, a sorcerer wants her soul, and no one can protect her in the hunting grounds of Jack the Ripper.”
This is book is definitely a switch-up in setting and pacing from the first one. Evelina is a character who went from near-poverty in a traveling circus to being presented to the Queen, and who has now been exiled to Whitechapel, one of the worst districts in London. It’s an opportunity for the author to show the seedier side of this version of London, and also to delve a bit into the mythos of Jack the Ripper.
I really liked the way the author blended Evelina’s story with the Ripper history. Even though the ultimate identity of the Ripper is something that would never have happened in real life, it is plausible within the context of the novel. There’s even a twisted reasoning behind the killer’s actions that makes a horrifying type of sense. It’s tied in with dark magic, but it’s something that could easily spring from a delusional person’s mind.
The novel doesn’t just follow Evelina, though. There are several plot threads winding through the story, such as the pirate Nick and his job smuggling parts for the resistance with the help of a sentient airship, Tobias Roth and his devil’s bargain with the Gold King, and Imogen Roth and her growing illness that she fears is magically induced. There are also glimpses of Holmes, his brother Mycroft, and the mysterious figure known only as the Schoolmaster. It’s a lot to follow, and I occasionally had to back up and bit and remind myself of who was where and what they were doing, but overall the author keeps things from getting too convoluted.
There’s definitely an increase in tension in this novel. I think part of that is due to the choice of including the Ripper—we all have some idea of what happened in Whitechapel, and seeing how it plays out in relation to Evelina keeps the pages turning. I wouldn’t say that it’s difficult to figure out who Holloway has cast as the Ripper, but it’s up in the air as to how involved Evelina will get with the gruesome murders. But the tension also comes from the author upping the stakes for the characters overall. She did a good job at making me care about Evelina, Nick, Tobias and Imogen in the first book, and that pays off for this novel.
Though there’s more emphasis on magic than on the steampunk aspects that began the series, A Study in Darkness still flows easily from the first novel and delivers a good story with lots of plot to dig into and plenty of action. I find myself really liking these characters and I’m eager to find out how their story unfolds.