As a rollicking adventure, romping across 1890s Europe to thwart exotic bad guys with the help of powerful, competent women who live locally in Vienna and Budapest and have extraordinary resources at their command, this succeeds very well.
There’s lots of action and derring-do, all of which is very well described. We get to spend time in a lunatic asylum in England, in a lunatic asylum in Vienna, in a ruined castle in Styria and in a Baron’s villa in Budapest. Along the way, we travel on the Orient Express, join the circus, have a firefight in a back alley, carry out three rescues from the clutches of villains and have a major, violent confrontation with the massed membership of the Alchemical Society.
Each member of the Athena Club gets to do something interesting and or dangerous. Some of them discover new abilities or new things about their history and all of them grow in confidence as they work together and the Club increases its membership. We meet several powerful, independent women who make common cause with the Athena Club. We also meet the woman heading the Alchemical Society, who turns out to be quite different from the egomaniacal men around her.
The characters of the members of the Athena Club are being nicely fleshed out now. Mary is opening up a bit and Alice is moving out of the shadows. Dianna remains her unrepentant self. Her uninhibited energy made me laugh several times. Catherine is more puma in this book than the last and all the better for it.
There is also some excellent prose in the book. Here’s an example. Cat has just asked Martin the Marvelous Mesmerist if mesmerism is real. He admits that some of the show is for effect but says that the “mesmerical waves” are real. I love this description:
“…when I was a child, I could sense them all around me—like we were all living in the ocean, under water, but only I knew we were wet.”
That’s a powerful description of what it feels like to see things differently than the people around you.
All in all, this book was a lot of fun.
It just wasn’t as much fun as the first book “The Strange Case Of The Alchemist’s Daughter”.
I know all second books in a trilogy face the challenge of not being as novel as the first book and not having the finality of the last but my enjoyment of this book was weakened by small things that might easily have been fixed.
The opening of the book was clumsy. About half of the first two hours of this twenty-four hours and twenty-seven minutes long could have been left out if Theodora Goss had assumed that I’d had the wit to read the series in sequence and that I had not so poor a memory that I needed to be reminded of the backstory of every member of the Athena Club and a recap on the plot of the first novel.
She did gloss the recaps with some humour, showing at least that’s she’s aware of how clumsy a start this is but, given how bold and innovative the writing style of the first novel was – it adopted a novel form and made no concessions to readers who might not be fully awake – it was a disappointing start. ‘m a little disappointed.
Another niggle was that the members of the Athena Club kept using American conventions to describe the layout of buildings. In Europe, the first floor is the one above the ground floor. Mary et. al. would take this for granted so I was quite confused when they used the American convention, making the first floor the second floor.
There was also a surprising anachronism. At one point in an account to the Athena Club, Cats says:
In Clerkenwell, a woman selling newspapers and cheap paperbacks from a stall was able to direct them to Mrs. Protheroe’s boardinghouse,
The book is set in the 1890’s. Paperbacks didn’t appear until the 1930s. Even the Yellowbacks that W H Smith’s sold at railway stations didn’t appear until the next century.
I was also that I ended up returning the audiobook and moving to the ebook version. This is not something I do often but I was losing patience with Kate Reading’s narration. This is disappointing as I’d enjoyed her narration of the first book. This time, her reading kept falling into a rhythm that provided variation but often put stresses in strange places, especially when there was no direct speech. It turned out that the ebook version is clear and easy to follow. I think I’ll stick with this format for the final book of the series.
Despite the niggles, I had fun with the book and I like the characters so the final book in the series, “The Sinister Mystery Of The Mesmerising Girl” is already in my TBR pile.