Title: The Dark Unwinding
Author: Sharon Cameron
Audio Book Narrator: Fiona Hardinham
Genre: Historical fiction/steampunk(?)/YA
Date Read: 17/01/2017 – 26/01/2017
A wonderful piece of historical fiction, with plenty of fabulous characters to get attached to. I will say at the outset though, that while it sells itself as steampunk, I wouldn’t put it in that category. Yes, clocks and clockwork automata play a role, but the aesthetic that comes with steampunk is absent. If anything, I’d call it a gothic mystery.
When her cruel aunt feels that her son’s inheritance is in peril, she sends Katherine Tulman to her uncle’s (the aunt’s brother-in-law) estate to see if he can’t be committed to an asylum, ensuring the safety of the family fortune. As Katharine depends on her aunt and cousin to survive, she is willing to all she can. That is, until she arrives at Stranwyne Keep and discovers that her uncle is a brilliant eccentric who employs 900 people on the estate who would otherwise be trapped in workhouses their whole working lives. And the more time she spends there, the more torn she becomes between protecting the people she comes to care for and protecting her only means of a future.
Let’s talk about Uncle Tully first. While the word is never mentioned – and would be anachronistic if it were, given the time period – it’s fairly clear that Uncle Tully is autistic. As far as I can tell (my experience is limited, admittedly), it is a very tender representation, too; from the moment you meet him, you curse Aunt Alice for wanting him anywhere near an asylum. His excitement about his clockwork figures is so endearing, and you just know that there is the brain of a genius hidden in there, even if it isn’t always on show.
Katharine is also a well-constructed character. Her evolution from simply wanting to get the unpleasant business over and done with to caring deeply for those at Stranwyne and the torture of knowing that the truth will come out eventually, even if she lies for them, is well done.
My other favourite character was Lane Moreau, Mr Tully’s closest servant (more friend/family than servant, really) and also Katharine’s eventual love interest. Unlike a lot of male love interests in YA, he actually had a reason to be dark and brooding when Katharine first arrived, namely, he thought she was going to betray them all. I’m a sucker for the hate-to-love trope and it’s done wonderfully here. Lane comes to care for Katharine, too, especially after seeing how quickly Mr Tully takes to her. And the banter! There was so much banter, they were so playful when they were pretending they weren’t supposed to be on opposite sides of the situation. It was wonderful!
There are other great side characters as well. The ensemble cast is very colourful, but we would be here all night if I mentioned everyone. I also don’t want to mention certain other characters and give things away. .
The plot moves slowly, particularly in the first half of the book. The characters really are the focus, and the setting of Stranwyne Keep is also really well developed and described after Katherine’s original arrival. The lay of the land is quite important in the climax of the novel, so pay attention to all of that! Sometimes I did find the descriptions of all the tunnels and secret doors and rooms a little confusing, probably not helped by the fact that I was listening to the audio book, so couldn’t just duck back a couple of pages or chapters to check things.
The climax itself is very exciting, though I did think the resolution of the situation with Aunt Alice and Cousin Robert was a little bit deus-ex-machina-y. Still, I was glad how things panned out. The book is definitely not a standalone, while many loose ends are tied up, some are not, and we are definitely left with questions. i plan to get to the sequel sometime in the very near future and revisit all these characters that I also came to really love.
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