There is a long-standing tradition of novels that alter an existing literary canon to suit the needs of a newer story. The Young Adult literary field is rife with this type of tweaking (not twerking). The latest example of this is The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason. In this novel Gleason uses two very different Victorian-era personalities as a springboard for her fantastical tale. Each of her heroines is related to one of these two people, one of whom is real and the other fictitious. By manipulating the family trees of these two people, Gleason Is able to create a whole new side-story filled with adventure, danger, and mystery.
Alvermina (Mina) Holmes is the niece of Sherlock – and the daughter of Mycroft – while Evaline Stoker Is the sister of renowned author Bram Stoker. Colleen Gleason gives each of these girls a voice by allowing them to each take center stage (via first-person narration) in various chapters throughout the story. It is to the credit of the author that readers can always tell which character is the focus even without the name markers that denote a change in viewpoint.
By setting her story in a steampunk-influenced Victorian England, Gleason helps to set the mood for this original, albeit odd, tale. As one would expect, the London of this novel is filled with gadgets and gizmos designed to reflect what would have seemed futuristic to a Victorian mindset. Gears and clockwork parts permeate the most mundane of items and steam is used to power almost everything. The gritty street life and fog most often featured in novels of the era are also still present to lend an air of authenticity to the proceedings.
When Irene Adler (yes, that Irene Adler) approaches Mina and Evaline to ask for assistance in finding out what happened to some missing socialites, the two girls meet for the first time and form a partnership that is anything but traditional. Like her famous Uncle, Mina Holmes is able to use her deductive mind to ferret out the most obscure of clues about the people they encounter. While at the complete opposite of the spectrum, Evaline Stoker is a kick-ass fighter who no one wants to mess with. In Evaline’s case, her talent literally means the difference between life and death – after all, she is the latest in a long line of vampire hunters. Oh, did I fail to mention that there are actual vampires in this altered version of Victorian London as well?
The investigation leads the two partners to a secret society that appears to have ties to Egyptian culture. All of the missing persons had in their possession a jewelry piece in the shape of a scarab. As they travel deeper and deeper into the mysteries of this secret society, they also encounter some people of the male persuasion, who happen to catch their interest for more than simply what they can offer to the case. It wouldn’t be a modern-day Young Adult novel without the inclusion of a love triangle or two. Gleason also fills the background of the tale with lawyers, cops, socialites and such characters as one would expect to find in a Victorian novel. Like Dickens, Colleen Gleason likes to play with character names – Ambrose Grayling, Pix, Inspector Luckworth, Richard Dancy, etc.
Just to complicate matters further, one of the aforementioned love interests, Dylan Eckhert, appears to have traveled through time. We are cleverly let onto this unexpected fact when Miss Holmes picks up a strange object he dropped at the scene of a crime. It’s a thin rectangular box with a light screen on the front and a picture of a partially eaten apple on the back. It is the subtle revelation of such matters that makes the book even more intriguing.
With The Clockwork Scarab, Colleen Gleason has created a vivid alternate reality sure to be loved by both teens and adults. The world-building is top-notch and there is no limit to the number of cases which Holmes and Stoker can investigate in future novels. Adult readers will love the dropped hints about other famous cases and books that pepper the novel, but younger readers who may not know these stories will likely want to explore the Victorian canon further as a result of this adventure tale.
Disclaimer: An e-galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.