“Hounds Of Autumn” by Heather Blackwood

A steampunk mystery that achieves a full head of steam in the last third of the book.

‘Hounds Of Autumn’ was a lottery book for me. I needed a book with ‘Autumn’ in the title as part of a reading challenge. I’d never read Heather Blackwood before and I haven’t really read much steampunk. It turned out to be a (small) lottery win for me and I’ll certainly be reading more of Heather Blackwood’s books.

For the first two-thirds of the book, I had ‘Hounds Of Autumn’ tagged as an engaging cosy mystery set in a steampunk version of Victorian England. There were airships and cunningly crafted, battery-powered, semiautonomous mechanicals, mysterious goings-on on the Moor and married women being very much in the power of their husbands. Our heroine was an inventor of mechanicals and has a much older, moderately wealthy, botanist husband who indulges her unwomanly fascination with automata.

The only things that marred my enjoyment were small slips that showed me that Heather Blackwood isn’t from England. The first was early in the book when, on finding a dead body in a bog in the Moor, she wrote that it was a miracle that the body had been found at all,,,

´,,,in the thousands of miles of bogs and marshes’

By English standards, that’s an impossibly large number.

Dartmoor National Park is 368 square miles. Yellowstone National Park is almost ten times that size at 3,468 square miles. If you’re used to US National Parks, Dartmoor must seem like something you’d miss if you blinked, but then, the whole of England is 50,337 square miles, so about the size of Alabama.

Then there were problems with speech. An Englishwoman would no more describe tea as ‘hot tea’ than a Canadian would describe hockey as ‘ice hockey’. Nor would an Englishman, on receipt of a loan, promises to ‘repay every cent.’ rather than repaying every penny. These were small things but they kept bouncing me out of the story.

Then, suddenly, in the last third of the book, ‘Hounds Of Autumn’ found its legs and became a more serious and more powerful book. It wasn’t cosy any more. It was violent and deadly, driven by jealousy, hatred, shame and long-kept secrets. It became centred around very powerful, very decisive women and the conflicts between them.

I found myself turning the pages, keen to know what happened next, and being pleasantly surprised at the punch that the plot and the characters delivered.

As far as I can see, ‘Hounds Of Autumn’ is a standalone novel, so I can’t follow our heroine’s adventures further, but I have bought ‘The Clockwork Cathedral’ (isn’t that an attention-getting title?) which is the first book in ‘The Time Corps Chronicles’ so that I can read more of Heather Blackwood’s books.

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