‘A Study In Ashes’ concludes ‘The Baskerville Affair’ trilogy. The story is set in an alternate Victorian London where a council of steam barons has divided the city among themselves. By controlling heat, power and light, these guys are practically ruling the city and the rest of the empire as well. The only thing beyond their control is magic, which in this world, is performed by nature spirits, so-called devas doing the magic users’ bidding. Therefore, the steam barons have arranged for magic to be banned.
It is a year after the events of ‘A Study In Darkness’. Evelina Cooper, niece of Sherlock Holmes, has made a devil’s bargain with Jasper Keating, aka the Gold King, one of the steam barons. In exchange for the life of her lover, Nick, she gave her freedom to Keating. Now she is at university and tries to understand her abilities better, shackled by the Gold King so she cannot leave. But being a woman keeps a lot of doors to knowledge shut. In her frustration, Evelina secretly tries a dangerous experiment and nearly gets expelled from university when the lab blows up. She remains under constant surveillance until her uncle needs her help in Dartmoor. A clever plan and the assistance of Dr. Watson set her free, only for her to be unwittingly delivered into the clutches of an old enemy.
Meanwhile, Nick, believed dead by everyone, survived the crash of his airship and became a slave in the Scarlet King’s Manufactory Three. Being the dashing pirate captain he has become in ‘A Study In Darkness’, he not only manages to escape imprisonment (it admittedly takes him nearly a year though) but also to acquire an important navigation device for the rebels. Nick now has more than one reason to join the Baskerville rebellion after reuniting with the remains of his old crew.
Imogen’s body lies still in a coma while her spirit wrestles with her dead twin sister over possession of it. Add to that the mysteries of the Black Kingdom, a civil war in London, a kidnapped baby, dragons, magic and machines, several deaths, the emergence of two new kings, a hidden prince and lots of devas and you catch a glimpse of what is going on here.
‘A Study In Ashes’ is a well-plotted novel which manages to keep the pace of its predecessor and provides a strong ending for the trilogy. You barely find the time to breathe. The world building is great and Holloway’s descriptive style conjures lively pictures of the Victorian world before your inner eye. This time around we get a lot more elements of the novel ‘The Hound Of The Baskervilles’ by Arthur Conan Doyle that are ingeniously and seamlessly integrated into Holloway’s world.
‘The Baskerville Affair’ which was only hinted at in ‘A Study In Silks’ and became much more defined in ‘A Study In Darkness’ is now the most central point. All the characters are developed further which is once again nicely supported by the changing viewpoints from chapter to chapter. The world gets even darker with the start of the war between the steam barons. Emma Jane Holloway once more deploys her knowledge of the period to best effect. She even deals with problems like social unrest and cholera.
This novel gives us a satisfying conclusion to ‘The Baskerville Affair’ and for every surviving character despite there being no ‘happily ever after’. Instead, we get some plot threads that could well be the seeds for a few more novels in this world which I would definitely like to read.
This book and the trilogy as a whole is very suitable for the reader who likes his or her steampunk with a tasty topping of whodunit and a side of magic (just read around some of the saucy romantic entanglements). But be aware: The first novel could well be described as kind of YA Steampunk but the atmosphere gets darker with every book and the third one is Steampunk for adults.
(pub: Del Rey/Ballantine Books, 2013. 662 page paperback. Price: $ 7.99 (US), $ 9.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-345-53720-1)