Saturday, November 2, 2013

Review: The Clockwork Scarab

The Clockwork Scarab (Stoker & Holmes, #1)

The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason is the story of Mina Holmes and Evaline Stoker in a steampunk version of Victorian London. Holmes is the niece of Sherlock Holmes, and is very logical and precise, with a gift for observation and deduction. Stoker on the other hand is a woman of action, and the sister of Bram Stoker. She is also a vampire hunter, with superhuman strength and speed. They’re about as different as two women can be- and that makes them a good team. They don’t initially like each other though –they’re both used to doing things their own way, so when they are asked to help solve the murder of several society girls they have to learn to work together.

The girls are asked to discreetly find answers to the murders on behalf of the crown, due to their unique talents. The only clue is an Egyptian scarab found at each murder scene. Another girl has gone missing and they have to find her before she, too, turns up dead. Along the way they run afoul of an Egyptian cult, which turns out to be a nasty piece of work. There is a lot going on in this story, with time travel elements and of course various romantic entanglements. 

Steampunk is a mixed bag for me. I want to like it, but I’m finding that I prefer it best when it’s firmly in the background. I really like the atmospherics here- the fog shrouded streets, the Victorian setting, the Egyptian cult seducing women with its dangerous secrets. Fantastic premise! But the steampunk elements- all the little gadgets with goofy names (like Ocular Magnifyer)- took me out of the story every time. I would have really liked this a lot more without the steampunk. 

As for the story itself, the perspective shifts between Holmes and Stoker. I liked Stoker better in this story but there’s not a lot of characterization here. Stoker does have an aversion to blood, which can be a problem for a vampire hunter! I thought this was a nice touch. I’m not really sure why there’s a vampire hunter in this story though. There are no vampires to combat- I kept waiting for one to turn up, to see Stoker face off against her sworn enemy, but it never happened. The pace of the story moves well for the most part- after the initial set-up we have two or three set piece moments punctuated by interludes and some reflection. There's a great scene in the middle where they infiltrate a cult meeting and its very atmospheric and moody. The last 100 pages move pretty fast and are easily the best part of the book.

The Clockwork Scarab is the first in a series, but even so I was a little irritated at the lack of resolution. I understand more is coming, but after 350 pages I would have liked at least see some plot threads resolved. This was a fun little romp for the most part, but I won’t be chomping at the bit to grab the next one given the lack of resolution here. Solid but not spectacular.   


  1. Steampunk is a bit of a mixed bag. What I don't like is when something is labeled as steampunk and I read it and it doesn't really feel steampunky to me. I had an example on the tip of my tongue and now can't remember the title of it but I read it last year I think...oh well.

    I do not like it when books feel like there is no resolution whatsoever at the end. Even if it is a starter for a series it should still have its own arc. So I agree with you on that.

  2. Yeah I think I'd like steampunk if it was the right book, done a certain way. it was almost too over the top here. It was like this book was trying too hard to be several different things. And the ending- yes there needed to be something more.

    There's two love interests (three really) and we know very little about them at the end, especially the most interesting one. That irked me.

    Thanks for stopping by!