My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I'm still enamored of the idea of steampunk, but I've had trouble finding novels that I like. This one comes close. Wish Goodreads had a half star system since this is better than three but not as good as four.
Set in Victorian London, it opens with a grand rescue by the ministry of Peculiar Occurrences agent, Eliza Braun. We later learn that she was supposed to assassinate Agent Wellington Books, fearing he had been compromised by their enemy to the House of Usher but she refused to follow that order.
As punishment, Eliza is taken out of the field to learn a little restraint and respect for the chain of command and is assigned to Books as a partner. He's an archivist, but he's also an inventor and innovator (which is where the steampunk elements come in the heaviest). Their relationship is a common trope, the stuffy bookish man and the highly sexualized outgoing woman (reminded a little too much of Rupert Giles and Faith). They called her a 'colonial pepperpot' a little too often. Eliza is from New Zealand and misses it. She also misses being in the field and when Books tells her about the cold case files, she can't resist looking into what happened to her last partner who'd been driven insane by a case involving missing people who were later found missing either all their bones, their tissues or their blood.
Books gets drawn into helping her. Together they uncover a new secret society, worse than the House of Usher, filled with England's upper crust, determined to restore England to it former world power status by any means possible. Intercutting the flip flopping chapters (between Eliza and Books, povs) are interludes that set up hints of unrest in the ministry and lay the groundwork for what surely will be a series of Braun & Books stories. With no back up and doing this in secret, Books and Braun may not survive to see another day.
The book was entertaining but it did have its problems. For one, the names bothered me, silly I know. It's not totally unlikely for a librarian to be named Books but it is a little eye rolling and Eliza Braun just kept putting me in mind of Germany not New Zealand but that's my issue not the book's. I was more put out that the characters are a tad one note, especially Eliza. I'm a little tired of action heroines being too over the top and Eliza is. The female assassin was more realistic in many ways. Eliza is all let's blow things up and not enough of anything else even though that is what she's supposed to be learning. Her sexing up Books and backing away got a little tiresome after a while but then again I'm not an UST fan. Books can be a little one note, too, and his loathing of guns made me think I misread something. I hadn't. He can/will shoot but he keeps hiding it from Eliza, which ended up feeling contrived, and I just didn't see why he'd do it. Overall, it was good. I'd look for the next one but I hope the characters will get a little more depth to them then.
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