The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason (review)

October 3, 2013 fantasy, steampunk, Stoker & Holmes, The Clockwork Scarab 10


Evaline Stoker and Mina Holmes never meant to get into the family business. But when you’re the sister of Bram and the niece of Sherlock, vampire hunting and mystery solving are in your blood. And when two society girls go missing, there’s no one more qualified to investigate.

Now fierce Evaline and logical Mina must resolve their rivalry, navigate the advances of not just one but three mysterious gentlemen, and solve murder with only one clue: a strange Egyptian scarab. The stakes are high. If Stoker and Holmes don’t unravel why the belles of London society are in such danger, they’ll become the next victims.


At first glance, The Clockwork Scarab has everything going for it: a interesting premise, mystery and mayhem, and not one but two potentially fantastic heroines.  Unfortunately, although entertaining, the book never quite lived up to my expectations.

The premise is relatively straightforward.  Miss Stoker and Miss Holmes are asked by Irene Adler to investigate the mysterious deaths and disappearances of several young ladies of high society.  (Yes, that Irene Adler. Sherlock Holmes’s “The Woman” from “A Scandal in Bohemia.)  The plot rapidly thickens, though, and Ms. Gleason throws in everything except the kitchen sink…  Steampunk, time travel, vampire hunters, Egyptian magic, ton balls, a handsome Scotland Yard inspector, an equally handsome Cockney sneak thief (who, inevitably, may be more than he appears to be), references to Sherlock Holmes and Bram Stoker, the aforementioned Irene Adler, a potential love triangle, various people in disguise, kidnapping, lab experiments, couture… you get the picture.  All that complexity makes the book fun to read, but places more emphasis on the plot than on character development, which was disappointing.  While I love a good, complex, action-filled plot, I also want well-drawn, well-rounded characters.  Sadly, most of the characters here are more stereotypes than real people.

One thing that particularly irritated me was the susceptibility of both Miss Holmes and Miss Stoker — both of whom are supposed to be strong-minded, intelligent, competent young women — to handsome young men, eligible or not.  They each go all fluttery and unfocused the moment a good-looking male under thirty gets anywhere near them — almost like characters in a badly-written romance.

There’s also Evaline’s tendency to faint at the sight of blood (a distinct handicap in a vampire hunter, though fortunately vampires are in short supply.)  It’s clearly meant to be her Achilles heel, but that aspect was already taken care of by making her extremely impulsive and prone to acting without thinking ahead.  Two such character flaws feels like overkill; it means her only real strength is her physical prowess, and that didn’t quite work for me.  She does have plenty of courage, at least, particularly toward the end.

But what bothered me the most about the two main characters is the way our heroines dislike and distrust each other through much of the book.  Although they were clearly recruited to work together by someone whose intelligence both of them respect, neither young woman seems inclined to discuss strategy and tactics with the other, preferring to work alone.  This leads to several crises, but it feels cliched, part of the “women can’t work together” stereotype, and it was disappointing.  Personality clashes are fine and can introduce needed tension, but in this case, I really believe that two sensible, bright young women ought to be able to work better together despite their personal differences, and the book would have been stronger for it.

A minor point, but one that also irked me: the author does not seem to understand the rules governing upper-class society in the Victorian and even Edwardian eras.  I made allowances because it’s not, strictly speaking, set in Victorian England but in a fantasy alternate world.  However, Ms. Gleason makes use of class differences when it matters to the plot and then ignores them when they are inconvenient.  (For example, Scotland Yard inspectors were unlikely to be acceptable guests at a high-society ball, even if distantly related to the host.)

I think a lot of these issues could have been worked out, or written in a way that made me less prone to notice them.  But the writing itself felt a little unpolished taken as a whole, and the characters, while not flat, lack the depth  and growth which would have made them more compelling.

All in all, I certainly found the story interesting enough to keep going.  I was taken aback when I realized that the mystery is not yet fully solved by the end of the book, and plenty of loose ends are left unresolved for the sequel.  I will probably read book 2 — for one thing, I want to find out whether I’m right about the villain’s true identity!  But when I do, I hope to see more depth and development in the characters.

*   *   *

Rating:  3 stars

About the author:   
USA Today bestselling author Colleen Gleason has written more than twenty books for major publishers such as Penguin Group, Harlequin Enterprises, and HarperCollins (as Joss Ware). Her books have been translated into seven different languages.

Colleen lives in the Midwest United States where she is fortunate enough to be working on her next book.   (Author bio from Goodreads)

Connect with Colleen Gleason:   Website       Facebook      

Categories:YA Fantasy; Steampunk; Mystery
Series: Stoker & Holmes #1
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Release date: Sept. 17, 2013
Book source:  Publisher review copy via NetGalley

Links:      Goodreads       Amazon       Barnes & Noble       Kobo

10 Responses to “The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason (review)”

  1. readerholicnotes

    Very good review, Lark. This was a book I thought about reading, but I think I will wait for the next book and see how that one is. There are enough things in your review I don’t think I would like either. Thanks for giving examples of why some things were annoying or didn’t work.

    • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

      Thank you, Jan. I wish I could have loved the book; it had a lot of things going for it, but some pet peeves of mine, as well. I actually thought this might be a first novel, but it’s not.

  2. kimbacaffeinate

    I was so excited till I got to the characters. I do not mind plot driven tales but stereo-typical characters, not fleshed out at all..*shudders* Is this a series? I will watch because maybe she will flesh them out more, since the plot sounds fantastic.

    • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

      The MCs fleshed out a bit, but not as well as I’d like — and the secondary characters aren’t much at all. Yes, it’s a series. The plot is entertaining enough to bring me back for the second book when it comes out.

  3. Greg

    Great review! I have to say the blurb draws me in a little, with the references to Stoker/ Holmes and vampire hunting so its good to see a review of this. I too generally prefer well rounded characters to a strictly plot- based story, so its good to know going in that the characters are a little thin. And all those plot elements- yikes it does sound a little crowded. Sounds like a good library pick up rather than a purchase… thanks Lark!

  4. Rita_h

    Hmm, I guess this is not for me. Too many negatives to overlook even if it is a creatively written story. Thanks for being honest!