A Study in Silks (The Baskerville Affair)
by Emma Jane Holloway
Cover Artist: Gene Mollica and David Stevenson
Review by Mel Jacob
Del Rey Mass Market Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780345537188
Date: 24 September 2013
List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /
A Study in Silks is another steampunk mystery series that plays upon Sherlock Holmes and even includes him as a character. He is the maternal uncle of would-be sleuth Evelina Cooper. The setting is Victorian England, one in which magic exists, but is forbidden, and witches are burned or imprisoned in Her Majesty's secret laboratories. Evelina has unimagined powers she uses to protect herself and her best friend, Imogen Roth, the daughter of Lord Bancroft. When a death occurs in the Bancroft household, Evelina is determined to find the killer despite the personal risks.
Set in Victorian London, various steam barons control power, lighting, and heating, and natural resources. They have divided the city between them and each is associated with a color. Lord Bancroft has been involved in political schemes to diminish the power of the steam barons and they do not take such efforts lightly. He soon learns to moderate his behavior.
When Evelina's mother ran away and married an army office, her wealthy family disowned her. The officer was a scion of a family with considerable magical talent, which Evelina inherited. After her parents died, her paternal grandmother raised her. She grew up in a circus and learned something of her powers. Later, when she reached puberty, she left the circus because she became a danger to another magic user, Nick, a gypsy who was also taken in and raised by her grandmother. To prevent a magic fueled disaster, her maternal grandmother is prevailed upon to take Evelina and educate her to become a lady. At school, she and Imogen become close friends after Evelina uses her powers to save Imogen's life.
One night as Evelina works in the Bancroft attic on the tiny automatons she builds, workmen come. She hides and watches as they locate and remove old trunks containing large automatons she had never seen before. Supposedly, the trunks came from Austria where Lord Bancroft once served as ambassador.
When a Bancroft maid is found dead, Evelina investigates. The maid carried a coded message and gold in a silk bag, which Evelina keeps. She remembers having sensed a strange presence just before the murder. Her investigations place her and her friend Imogen in danger. Only Evelina's magic enables them to survive.
A Doctor Faustus figure hovers on the edges. Evelina senses dark magic in him and fears him. He wants the automatons made by Lord Bancroft. He tries to convince both her and Tobias, Imogen's brother, to join him in his work with automatons. He has also caught Nick spying on him and forces him to help him spy on Lord Bancroft.
Halloway manages to combine all these threads and Sherlock into an exciting steampunk mystery. Two more novels will follow in quick succession: Study in Darkness and Study in Ashes. She uses many familiar elements of steampunk, but adds some new elements on the political front and the power structure of her world. While Steven Harper's Alice, Lady Michaels, in the Clockwork Empire series doesn’t use magic, there are many similarities between her and Evelina, including their work on miniature automatons (The Doomsday Vault, The Impossible Cube, and The Dragon Men).
Steampunk and mystery readers should find Holloway's next two books a pleasant diversion.
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