Saturday, November 7, 2015

First Read Friday: The Chess Queen Enigma by Colleen Gleason

     Title: The Chess Queen Enigma (Stoker & Holmes, #3) [ARC]
     Author: Colleen Gleason
     Publisher: Chronicle Books
     Published: October 6, 2015
     Number of Pages: 351
     Genre(s): Mystery, Sci-fi, Steampunk, YA
     Date Read: October 25, 2015
     Acquired: Goodreads Giveaways

It is my great pleasure to introduce you this evening to one Miss Alvermina Holmes, daughter of Sir Mycroft Holmes, niece of the esteemed detective Sherlock. She would prefer that you call her Miss Holmes, or if you must use the familiar, Mina. Mina is every bit a Holmes, she is following in her uncle's famous footsteps as a master of deductive reasoning (although she still has much to learn). May I also introduce you to her associate Miss Evaline Stoker, sister of Mr. Bram Stoker, oh yes, and she's a trained vampire hunter. Together they form the team of Stoker & Holmes, under the guidance of the indomitable and infamous Miss Irene Adler they endeavor to become a crime fighting force to rival the likes of Holmes and Watson. 

The year is 1889 and our intrepid young heroines have been tasked by the Crown to act as diplomatic escorts for a foreign Princess as she attempts to restore the relationship between her country and England by returning a letter that will lead to a loss chess piece, a white queen. On the eve prior to their assignment to escort the Princess of Betrovia, Evaline gets drawn into a mystery involving her friend Pix. Inevitably everything goes bottoms up, the letter ends up stolen and Mina and Evaline are called in to track it, and the queen down. Mina deduces that their adversary in this endeavor is someone they have faced before, their own Moriarty if you will, a criminal mastermind known only as the Ankh. What, if anything does the Ankh and the missing chess queen have to do with Pix's mysterious client? And is everyone around them really who they appear to be?

I must preface this review by noting that the copy of the book that I read is an uncorrected advanced reader's copy that I received from the publisher via Goodreads Giveaways. Therefore, without having a finished copy of the book in hand I cannot say for certain whether or not any of the problems I had with this book actually appear in the final version of the novel. Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I love books that take characters we know and love (or historical figures in the case of Bram) and give them bigger and more complex lives than we saw them have in their own stories. In this instance those beloved characters serve as background characters to give the two main characters a reason for existing, but I love that. There are things that Mina Holmes and Evaline Stoker can do that Sherlock and Bram could not as characters.The steampunk meets urban paranormal fantasy mashup intrigues me as well, you can't have a character called Stoker without having vampires. This is the 3rd book in the Stoker & Holmes series, but it is the first one that I have read. I went to the public library last night and borrowed the other two.

I'm betting that many of the problems I had with this book stem from the fact that I didn't read the first two before reading it. The story felt rushed to me over all, and like there were too many side plots that the author had to hastily try and fold into the main plot...which caused the main plot to get sort of diluted. The Dylan story line, that felt out of place for me, but that one I definitely expect is because I haven't read the first two books yet. Wedging the vampire portion of the plot (the Pix storyline) into the puzzle of the chess queen seemed unnecessarily contrived, it seemed more like its purpose was setting up the 4th Stoker and Holmes book rather than driving the plot of this book. And the actual enigma of the chess queen? I feel like that was the one storyline in the book that didn't get as much attention as it should have, it just to me any way felt like that investigation was just happening whenever they didn't have something else on the go. And the last thing that bothered me? The something else on the go usually related to men. I feel like Mina and Evaline shouldn't be concerned about men or what men think of them etc. but Evaline spends time telling us how jealous she is of another female friend of Pix's and also trying to sort her feelings out for him. Mina spends quite a lot of time trying (and failing miserably) to deny that she has feelings for Inspector Grayling (the Lestrade to her Sherlock). I'm telling you, if I am picking up a novel called a Stoker and Holmes novel, I am NOT picking it up for the relationship dramas of young Victorian ladies, I am picking it up for kickass vampire hunting a damn good mystery...and I just feel like both of those things were somewhat afterthoughts in the novel. 

Enjoyable read, just not 100% what I was expecting. Won't stop me from reading the rest of the series though.


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