Colleen Gleason’s The Spiritglass Charade is the second book in her steampunk mystery series featuring Evaline Stoker (Bram’s sister) and Mina Holmes (Sherlock’s neice/Mycroft’s daughter), and it has benefited from the groundwork laid in the first book, The Clockwork Scarab*.
(Spoilers ahead for both books)
Despite the disastrous ending of the Affair of the Clockwork Scarab in which they let the arch-villain The Ankh escape, Evaline and Mina are eager to begin their next case. When Princess Alix herself requests their aid in exposing a fraud, they vow to do better this time. Alix’s friend Willa Aston has been obsessing over spiritual mediums, convinced they can help her speak with her deceased mother or missing brother. But Evaline and Mina soon discover that someone is using her misguided belief in the power of a spiritglass to make her appear to be a lunatic. With the addition of unexpected murders and the return of vampires to town, Evaline and Mina must figure out the connection between all these events, especially if it leads back to the mysterious and still-at large Ankh.
While the book alternates chapters between Evaline and Mina, I must confess to an affinity towards one protagonist more than the other. Despite my sympathy towards Mina’s general geek awkwardness, I find her too smug and judgmental. Evaline, on the other hand, may act rashly but at least has an empathetic and warm nature. Both of them (sadly) showed little growth from the previous text, often working independently instead of jointly and wasting more time with pointless swooning than actual detecting.
Relatedly to the amorous entanglements, the worst part of the series is definitely the time-traveling subplot. I find Dylan to be useless, with little role to play besides being one of Mina’s romantic interests (nevermind the fact that she has the perfectly adorable Scotland Yard Inspector Grayling as a potential beau). Dylan’s modern electronics and scientific/historical information from the future didn’t bring much to their investigations or jive with the technological innovations of the setting, even though he eventually uses his medical knowledge of blood transfusions to save lives in this book. At least Evaline’s potential partner Pix, while overly secretive and sketchy, has a useful deeper connection to the seedy characters of the London underground.
The mystery itself was smarter than I expected, including a few unpredictable turns and a particularly thrilling scene set in the fantastic-sounding Vauxhall Gardens. Plus it features a part-cyborg beagle, deliciously decadent-sounding creme mandarins, and the opportunity to mock Twilight! It ends with an intriguing twist that will strongly impact Evaline’s and Mina’s relationship and responsibilities in the next book, and I’m eager to see how it unfolds.
Teen steampunk enthusiasts will enjoy having two intelligent female protagonists and the intersection of mystery with some unusual sci-fi/fantasy elements. I recommend this to fans of Gail Carringer’s Parasol Protectorate or Patricia Wrede/Caroline Stevermer’s Cecilia & Kate (The Enchanted Chocolate Pot) series.
*Forgive me for not having reviewed The Clockwork Scarab on this blog as I read it before the times. By my Goodreads, I attested it was “fun and light with two flawed, but engaging heroines. Plenty of ludicrous plots, but more amusing than frustrating.” So there you have it, though I will admit to liking the sequel more.