A Study in Silks (The Baskerville Affair, #1)

A Study in Silks (The Baskerville Affair, #1) - Emma Jane Holloway (I got an ARC ebook from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

For once, I'll say I liked this story better than I expected to. I can be a terribly grouchy fan of good old Sherlock Holmes, and among the few other books I read in which he makes an appearance, only two really managed to grip me (one because the author managed to emulate Doyle's style and narrative as much as possible, and the other for totally different reasons, with a very different Holmes, too). The reasons behind this reluctance of mine are usually of three kinds: character betrayal, easy Deux Ex Machina and badly disguised fanfiction, complete with self-inserts. I don't think "A Study in Silks" fell into those pitfalls, or so little that it didn't impede my reading pleasure.

Evelina is definitely the main character here, and stands her ground as a strong young woman, even though she commits mistakes and is clearly not on par (yet?) with her uncle in terms of investigating. But then, could anyone be, especially someone as young and yet to learn much more from life, especially in a society such as hers, and torn as she is between two worlds? Considering her circumstances, I thought she actually did quite a good job with the hands she was dealt. Besides, while I'm not always a big proponent of the romance aspect, I find it to be quite à propos in Victorian-like settings, women being expected to either marry or earn a living through a limited range of jobs only (governess, school teacher, maid...). In that regard, Evelina's problems and on-the-side "errings" make sense.

Add magic (banished and rejected!) and lobbying, powerful steam barons who can disconnect people, both directly (cutting gas supplies) and indirectly (being without lighting means Society understanding you're a reject), and you've got a complex world in which to navigate. Clearly it wasn't described entirely here, far from it, but I got enough to form a proper vision of my own, and to wish to read the next installment in order to learn more about it.

The book shifts through several points of view, not only Evelina's, which is a little unusual at first for a mystery novel: it cuts on potential culprits fairly quickly, since when we switch to their POV, we know they're not guilty (and conversely). However, in the long run, the technique worked; the plot is complicated enough as it is, and using only Evie's POV may have forced the author to resort to other tricks to have everything solved, which in turn may have seemed too convenient. As for Sherlock Holmes himself, although he wasn't on the same level as the original character (can any be?), he was far from being the worst, too. I liked how he was tied to canon happenings (Bohemia, Irene Adler...), which allowed for him to have an influence on the story as a whole, without intervening too directly, yet without being shoved aside "just because" either. Though he helps to solve the mystery, he doesn't do all the work—and there are things himself doesn't know, and that his niece won't tell him about, thus leaving her with the ace of magic under her sleeve.

While the main story gets wrapped up, the ending is an open one: not a "how frustrating!" cliffhanger, but with enough things left unsolved, and enough new elements, to allow, I think, for a second book with more than just a couple of leads to chase. As for the love triangle, at first I wasn't convinced (they're so common nowadays!). Nevertheless, both love interests have a darker side. Both end up in shady deeds. Neither is totally black or white, and Evelina isn't blind to that, keeping her wits about her and not melting as soon as she sees them, although part of her sure wishes to. Things didn't pan out as I expected them to, and this was a nice surprise, leaving open roads here as well.

If one thing, I think the book might have been a trifle too long, or perhaps dwellt a little too much on some aspects (marriage prospects, romance for more than one character...) to my liking. But, again, this fits within the Victorian-like setting—much more than it fits in many contemporary ones, to be honest.