Miss Holmes. Miss Stoker. There are many young men your age who are called into the service of their country. Who risk life and limb for their queen, their countrymen, and the Empire. Tonight, I ask, on behalf of Her Royal Highness, the Princess of Wales: will you do what no other young women are called to do, and place your lives and honor at the feet of your country?
—Irene Adler, in Colleen Gleason’s The Clockwork Scarab
Obviously, they say yes: Would you expect anything different from the daughter of Mycroft Holmes* and the sister of Bram Stoker?
In The Clockwork Scarab, the two very different girls—Mina, a scientist and thinker; Evaline, a hot-headed vampire hunter—are thrown together and given a mystery to solve: Who is behind the recent spate of upper-crust dead girls? Over the course of their investigation, they attend the event of the season, uncover a secret society, and blush a whole lot in the presence of a police inspector, a pickpocket and a boy not just from the future, but from an alternate universe…and realize that despite their differences, they are much more similar than either one would have ever expected.
Is it derivative? Yes. Evaline’s Venator powers (super-strength, quick healing) and tasks (hunting vampires, fighting evil) are straight out of Buffy; much of Mina’s narration reads like Gleason had Sherlock on in the background while she was writing; and Dylan, the Boy From The Future, is basically a companion from Doctor Who, there purely to ask questions for the audience and to provide a mouth with which to voice Modern Sensibilities.
Does that matter? Not really. It’s fun, it’s smart, and despite the familiar components, it’s a solidly entertaining steampunk adventure. Most notably, it has a much stronger focus on the relationship between the girls than on any of the various romantic entanglements, and there’s a thought-provoking thread about feminism, and about cultural assumptions about gender roles: how “appropriate” conduct is defined by worldview.
While they both get a bit repetitive about their personal angsts, Mina and Evaline’s voices are distinct—Mina, of course, tends toward a constant stream of deductions about everyone and everything she comes into contact with, while Evaline’s voice is more romantically gothic—and as both girls are very independent, neither is quick to trust; their journey toward mutual respect, empathy and friendship is gradual and believable.
Also! Fans of Gleason’s adult Gardella Vampire Chronicles will appreciate the fact that the two are set in the same universe: Evaline is a descendant of Victoria Gardella, the heroine of that series.
So: two stories that deal with the imminent (and for us, disastrous) return of an Egyptian god in a row. Is it a literary trend, or do I just love reading about Archaeology Gone Horribly Wrong? Crossing my fingers that it’s the former.
*Intelligence and a tendency towards deductive reasoning clearly runs in the entire Holmes family; in terms of her inclination towards active adventure, Alvermina more closely resembles her uncle Sherlock than her more sedentary father.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy might be making stuff for her Etsy shop while re-watching Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5, Black Books or Twin Peaks. Well, that or she’s hanging out on Twitter. Or both.