A Study In Silks (The Baskerville Affair book 1) by Emma Jane Holloway (book review).

January 31, 2015 | By | Reply More

‘A Study In Silks’ kicks off ‘The Baskerville Affair’ trilogy. As you may surmise Sherlock Holmes does play a role in it; yet this novel is definitely not canon nor does it endeavor to be. The setting is an alternate Victorian London. A council of steam barons has divided the city among themselves and, by controlling heat, power and light, these guys are practically ruling the city. The only thing they cannot really control is magic, which in this world is done by calling nature spirits called devas to do the magic users’ bidding. Therefore the steam barons have arranged for magic to be banned, as well as new technology they don’t control. So you’d better not get caught possessing pieces of machinery or performing magic.


The main protagonist is Evelina Cooper, niece of the great Sherlock Holmes. She has a checkered past: Her mother, born into gentry, had fallen in love with a circus performer and eloped with him. Evelina grew up in the circus until her parents died and her maternal grandmother sent her to a boarding school where she should learn to become a lady. At school, Evelina and Imogen, the daughter of Lord Bancroft, become friends. The story begins with Evelina staying at the Bancroft family home, preparing for her first ball season. She has a talent nobody knows about, an heirloom from her father’s side: Evelina can do some magic, namely bind earth devas to small mechanical toys, bringing them to life.

One evening, Evelina more or less stumbles upon a crime scene when one of the Bancrofts’ maids is being murdered and, as Sherlock Holmes’s niece, Evelina can’t help but begin to investigate. Her well-meant intention to keep the secrets of the Bancroft family to herself becomes more difficult the more she discovers and Evelina soon has more on her hands than she expected: murder, sorcery, political scheming, her childhood sweetheart from the circus, Imogen’s brother, magic going wild and more murders. Wow, it is definitely too complex to fit into a few words for a review!

‘A Study In Silks’ is a well plotted novel which paves the way for the bigger story to unfold over the run of the trilogy. There are glimpses of grave danger looming on the horizon which will become more central to the plot of the next novel I presume. All the characters are well developed and we learn a lot about their private thoughts and agendas because the viewpoint changes from chapter to chapter to the preeminent character for the story at that time. Thus we have the advantage of knowing a bit more about what’s actually going on than Evelina. The world-building is promising, Emma Jane Holloway has good knowledge of period dress and customs and the whole package is entertaining and easy to read.

The plot comes to a satisfying conclusion, even if not all threads are brought to an end and I at least am anxious to read about the further adventures of Evelina Cooper and the developments in the Baskerville Affair. Hopefully, in the next two novels, we will see more of the inner workings of magic and if the hinted at social unrest becomes reality. Despite there being a couple of romantic scenes, I would not classify it as a steampunk romance. It is a novel for readers who like their whodunit with a tasty topping of steampunk and magic.

Sven Scheurer

January 2015

(pub: Del Rey/Ballantine Books. 531 page paperback. Price: $ 7.99 (US), $ 9.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-345-53718-8)

check out websites: www.delreybooks.com and www.emmajaneholloway.com

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Category: Books, Steampunk

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