Summary: This steampunk-paranormal mystery series is just plain fun. Three books into the Stoker and Holmes adventures and I’m still enjoying them immensely—prickly, socially awkward Mina Holmes; quick-tempered, impulsive, but brave Evaline Stoker—and this from a series that I actually wasn’t initially sure I would like. The Chess Queen Enigma (love that word, enigma) is book 3, and it continues Mina and Evaline’s fight against the shadowy and frightening person known only as the Ankh. Oh, and vampires. There are, of course, vampires to be vanquished, a princess to protect, and a chess piece to find, a carved queen that could determine the fate of nations. It’s not out until October 6th, but I really needed to review this one before I forget the details—when I grabbed a review copy at ALA this summer, I was just too tempted to read it ASAP. And so I did.
Peaks: Much as I of course love the setting of a mysterious alternate version of Victorian London, and all the fun and imaginative steampunk gadgets, for me this book is all about the characters. Not just the mystery-solving protagonists Evaline and Mina, but the love interests like Pix and Grayling, who add spice and interest to each case—Pix through his meddling about via the London criminal underworld, and Grayling in his legitimate job as a young policeman. And of course let’s not forget Dylan, a boy from (more or less) our world, who somehow ended up in Mina and Evaline’s world through an accident of time travel. We get a cameo from the illustrious Uncle Sherlock, of course, and plenty of over-the-top menace from the Ankh him-or-herself.
This particular volume was another rollicking mystery with plenty of misdirection and red herrings to throw off even the most detail-oriented reader, and it nicely combined the ongoing plot arc with the case at hand—always interesting to me, since I don’t write series fiction myself (or, anyway, haven’t yet). And there’s plenty of humor to be found as the characters end up in all sorts of outlandish, unexpected, and otherwise sticky situations.
Valleys: Besides some anachronism here and there (hard to avoid, in this type of book), I don’t really have any quibbles. You’ll either enjoy the Stoker and Holmes series or you won’t. If you like steampunk fiction, then I definitely recommend it, because you’ll already be familiar with the specific brand of suspension of disbelief that accompanies the genre.
Conclusion: As I said, this is fun stuff, and highly enjoyable. It’s the perfect kind of book to curl up with and escape into when your mood needs a lift, and you’ll find yourself absorbed by the mystery, the action, the brooding greyness of Victorian London, and most of all the quirky and entertaining characters.
I received my review copy of this book courtesy of the publisher at ALA; all comments are based on the ARC and not the finished version. You can find THE CHESS QUEEN ENIGMA by Colleen Gleason at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you, on October 6th!