Having (they think) vanquished one shadowy secret society in their first exploit (The Thief’s Apprentice, 2016), young Oliver and Mr. Scant, his claw-handed valet/mentor, tackle several more in their second.
When the search for Mr. Scant’s missing teenage niece, Elspeth, brings the plucky white protagonists to a China seething under European domination in the wake of the Boxer Rebellion, they are quickly cast into a cauldron of intrigue. This is stirred not only by the previously met Tri-Loom, but also by the equally shadowy Star and Stone Association and the Viridian Clan—one of which has been kidnapping French youths as part of a baroque scheme to assassinate the 5-year-old Xuantong Emperor and so fuel a new effort to throw off the foreign yoke. Ultimately, following a proper round of revelations, betrayals, and desperate heroics, the scheme is scotched. But even though (aside from giving the Chinese a light wash of inscrutability) Methods largely manages to avoid ethnic stereotypes and allows his female characters a modicum of agency to boot, the episode is largely a pastiche of standard-issue elements that bogs down in inconsequential meetings and discussions, general to-ing and fro-ing, and such missed opportunities as a dirigible voyage from Britain to Shanghai that is done in four pages.
A plodding sequel showing signs that the series is already running low on inspirational steam. (Adventure. 10-12)