When I first heard of The Clockwork Scarab, I was thrilled. After all, what’s not to like about a story of the female relatives of Bram Stoker and Sherlock Holmes? The answer is a boring protagonist, stilted dialogue, and the darn Victorian sense of propriety.
The Clockwork Scarab came really close to being a “did not finish” for me. I was all set to return it to the library after reading just a few chapters, but curiosity got the better of me regarding a certain romantic prospect in the book. I started reading bits and pieces of the remaining chapters to get to the juicy parts. As a result, The Clockwork Scarab ended up being more of a “skim through the boring bits to find mention of the sexy Cockney-accented thug” than a true “DNF.”
The bones of The Clockwork Scarab are promising. There’s a mystery involving dead debutantes, midnight excursions to the British Museum, and enigmatic connections to Egyptian goddesses and artifacts. There are also secret societies, high-class parties, and undercover missions requiring elaborate disguises. The problem is that my eyes started to glaze over every time Mina Holmes narrated a chapter.
As the niece of Sherlock Holmes, Mina possesses an acute power of observation, a piquant curiosity, and keen intelligence. Unfortunately, she also possesses a very stodgy voice. She comes across as very dry and clinical, and there are times when she’s a snooty know-it-all. It got to the point, about 100 pages in, where I simply skipped Mina’s chapters in favor of Evaline’s more exciting ones.
An unfortunate consequence of this is that I missed a lot of important stuff. For example, I eventually realized that there seemed to be a time travel element in the plot, but by that point I’d come too far and didn’t care to go back and re-read to try to figure out why this Zach from the 2000s was important or how he ended up in the 1800s. I did recommence reading Mina’s chapters toward the very end of the book (I wanted to see how the mystery was solved, after all), but it’s obvious I lost a lot along the way.
I realize this is a really ridiculous and unfair way to read a book, but what can I say – I was bored. My options were to read it in bits and pieces, or not read it at all.
Another motivation to skim rather than reading carefully from cover to cover was the formal, prim way the characters spoke. I’m guessing this was Gleason’s attempt to sound historically accurate, but I apparently don’t have much tolerance for Victorian speech, which strikes me as stuffy and contrived. I don’t have a lot of patience for Victorian propriety, either. Don’t let that man see your ankles, ladies! Don’t touch his hand without wearing gloves! I know this is true to the Victorian era, but I need a little more raciness to hold my interest in a book.
That’s not to say A Clockwork Scarab was all bad. As I mentioned in the beginning, there was a potential love interest, Pix, who was exciting enough to prevent me from returning The Clockwork Scarab to the library unfinished. I’ve always been fond of rascals, charmers, and men who are too clever for their own good, and Pix is all of these things. My favorite parts of the book were the scenes where he and Evaline kept ending up in compromising positions. Well, those scenes and one in an opium den…and that’s because Pix was in that scene, too. Shirtless. Yum!
Besides Pix, something else I liked about this book was Mina and Evaline’s desire to prove themselves. The two girls are very different from one another, with very different strengths, and each has her own fears and self doubts. For Mina’s part, she isn’t as pretty as Evaline and is self conscious about things like not fitting in among high society, not being invited to parties, not having any gentlemen who want to dance with her, etc. Evaline, Mina’s foil, is very pretty and popular, and unlike Mina she does receive invitations to attend social functions and dance with handsome men. For her part, though, Evaline wants to prove to Mina that she’s intelligent and doesn’t have to rely on Mina to be the “smart one.” The girls’ insecurities make them much easier to sympathize with.
There might be many more appealing aspects of The Clockwork Scarab that I missed by not reading the entire book. To be on the safe side, you might want to take my review with a grain of salt and read this book for yourself.