The Spiritglass Charade and The Chess Queen Enigma
Stoker & Holmes, Books 2 and 3
by Colleen Gleason
The Spiritglass Charade
Basia rates it 4/5
Connor rates it 4/5
I actually enjoyed this book more than I enjoyed the first one, so this is a solid 4-star rating from me. This book still suffers from the weird lack of editing that I noticed in the last one, and the ending still wraps up far too quickly for my satisfaction (there are several questions to which I’d like the answers–are the ghosts real?!), but my real problem with this book, it will surprise no one to know, rests largely on Dylan’s shoulders. I still find him unnecessary and annoying, and in this book he’s come to embody one of my most-hated tropes: The Outsider (from another world/time/whatever) brings in practices from their more “advanced” society and uses it to “better” the lives of the poor, ignorant people of the world into which they’ve stumbled. I suppose this was to make Dylan seem a more necessary plot point, but I honestly still see the point for neither him nor his time travel. He sticks out like a sore thumb, and although he might be meant to, it’s not endearing–it’s jarring. It’s very apparent that he isn’t supposed to be there, and I’d greatly prefer it if he wasn’t.
That being said, the girls really shine in this book. There was, I felt, more of a balance between narrative points of view in comparison to Scarab, and both Mina and Evaline get to shine spectacularly in their respective fields. They are, quite literally, kicking ass and taking names, and I started the third book immediately after I closed the second, because I wanted to see more of them. (Unfortunately for me, that also means seeing more of Dylan. Ugh.)
Also, there’s a puppy, which is enough to make me love any book.
As with Basia, I found this book more enjoyable than the first one. Not only was the case more interesting (although still rather fantastical, at the end of the day–but then, what does one expect from a steampunk tale featuring both the niece of Sherlock Holmes and, more to the point, a vampire slaying teenager?), but I was very appreciative that we got to see more of Miss Stoker’s Particular Talents (TM). Mina and Evaline’s rather tenuous partnership is bolstered throughout this novel by their lively debates about the existence (or nonexistence) of everything from the UnDead to genuine mediums. They might not be ready to call themselves friends, per se, but the growth in their relationship and mutual understanding made this book a better read than the first. They are both clearly growing in their own areas of expertise, too, which is a delight to behold.
And then we come to the bitter point of the book: Dylan. Once again, our Outsider is stepping into the savior role and bringing his Superior Understanding to matters both trivial and serious. In an otherwise fairly character-driven mystery-esque series, he sticks out like sore thumb. While some of the feats he performs here would be interesting on their own, his presumptuousness in the face of Society’s values still rubs me the wrong way.
Overall, Gleason managed to captivate me from page one–I devoured this entire book in something like four or five hours–and while I felt there were too few scenes with one Scottish Inspector and too many with the American interloper, I will admit the puppy made up for both.
The Chess Queen Enigma
Basia rates it 4/5
Connor rates it 4/5
This book was, by far, the best of the three. Not simply in terms of content–although this novel definitely felt the most balanced of the three, both narratively and as far as pacing goes–but also in terms of writing. I feel as if, reading these books, I’ve seen Gleason grow as a writer, and it’s lovely to be on that journey with her, even as a spectator. I didn’t find myself nit-picking about things as much because there was not much to nitpick. It was a refreshing, sweep-you-along sort of novel that I tore through in a matter of hours immediately after finishing The Spiritglass Charade.
That being said, my main criticism still revolves around Dylan. This isn’t so much about his character, as much as he annoys me, but more about his narrative function. Dylan is, to put it simply, a plot device. I don’t like him precisely because he feels intrusive and wildly inappropriate in the story. His deus ex machina role continues into Chess Queen, and more than once it left me gritting my teeth. “I can’t do anything that would change the future!” he cries, while dashing off to do just that. That’s the sort of narrative trope that always bothers me, regardless of whether or not I like the character, and it’s sloppily done here. It sticks out in a novel that otherwise feels fairly polished. Dylan Eckhert: the hangnail, so to speak.
I stand by my original, slapdash review of this whole thing: the most wonderful and unexpected thing to come out of this installment was Evaline and Grayling being total bros.
Must I really wait until 2017 for the next one?
After the Dylan-heavy narrative of The Spiritglass Charade, I must admit I found his relative absence in The Chess Queen Enigma most refreshing.(He still managed to irk me to no end and play the Outsider Savior trope to perfection, though, so don’t get your hopes up too high. He’s an entirely too convenient character for me to find any enjoyment in his presence.)
Despite that, Enigma is easily the best of the three Stoker & Holmes novels to date. There’s an elegance in Gleason’s handling of plot and character that was hinted at in Spiritglass and absent in The Clockwork Scarab: in short, her writing has improved with the series, and witnessing that is an utter joy. While the narrative in Scarab felt a bit scattered & in Spiritglass a bit too wrapped up in Dylan, Enigma handles these more gently.
The relationship between Mina and Evaline continues to grow as they work on their newest case from opposite ends, but what truly stood out about this narrative was the presence of Inspector Grayling, our resident Scottish detective who also happens to have the most adorable puppy of all time. His relationship with Mina grows, as one might expect, but what struck me as truly revolutionary was the unexpected friendship that arose between Evaline and Grayling. Also, there were some totally great, badass fight scenes in this book for more than just our vampire-slaying heroine.
In truth, the only downside to finishing both of these within twenty-two hours is that waiting for the next feels agonizing.