Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Review: The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron

The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron
Series: The Dark Unwinding #1
Genre: Steampunk/Gothic
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When Katharine Tulman’s inheritance is called into question by the rumor that her eccentric uncle is squandering away the family fortune, she is sent to his estate to have him committed to an asylum. But instead of a lunatic, Katharine discovers a genius inventor with his own set of rules, who employs a village of nine hundred people rescued from the workhouses of London.

Katharine is now torn between protecting her own inheritance and preserving the peculiar community she grows to care for deeply. And her choices are made even more complicated by a handsome apprentice, a secretive student, and fears for her own sanity.

As the mysteries of the estate begin to unravel, it is clear that not only is her uncle’s world at stake, but also the state of England as Katharine knows it.

I like how they make this sound as though the book isn't about a girl that thinks she's insane. (Please note, I don't like it at all. That was sarcasm.)

This book is what would happen if you take your average steampunk story, cross it with your average gothic romance story and add a healthy dose of insanity.

I'll be honest with you, this is not the book for me - but I can almost see why some people would like it.

The characters are all well enough done. My problem with first person perspective is highlighted quite aptly here though. (A problem of 'knowing next to nothing about the supporting cast, and more about the main character than you ever wanted to know'.)

Katharine is actually quite likable at the start. She's a mathematically inclined young lady in a time when women were supposed to smile and pour tea and not have a thought in their pretty little heads. But for a good portion of the book she's given to flights-of-fancy, a fear she's loosing her mind - all while seeing things that she couldn't possibly be seeing.

This starts her first night at Stranwyne - the huge manor - when she is left cowering in fear in her bed because she think she hears wolves howling on the moors. Okay, that might be a little understandable, but I realized what kind of girl I was getting when, just before that, she is worried about sleeping in a bed that's in the middle of the room. That there is no wall behind the headboard causes her a surprising amount of panic.

Adding to this is the fact that she seems to almost revel in her 'misfortune'. She is quite willing to remind people that the mess she finds herself in is not her fault and that all decisions have been taken out of her hands. But she refuses to do anything to solve these problems; she refuses to talk them out; she refuses to think for herself!

The other characters are quite well done and realistic I'd say. From the surly, fiercely loyal cook, to the mute boy, to the garrulous 'lady's maid', to the hot-and-cold assistant, to the childlike uncle - they're all more than the sum of their parts. And, honestly, more than once I found my heartstrings getting tugged by them and my heart going out to them.

But I did have problems with this book (besides Katherine that is).

It wasn't even the fact that the steampunk was kind of front loaded and never explained well enough. (Okay, it kind of was, because I expect my steampunk to be steampunk and if you feature gears so prominently, you better be steampunk.)

Now, I'm not going to say which it is (because, obviously, spoilers - and I think this is a major component to the book and I wouldn't want to go spoiling it for anyone. I don't think stating this observation is a spoiler though, because I put it together almost immediately) but this is either a case of narrator insanity or gaslighting.

At this point, I started to understand why the POV was chosen, as neither option would be as effective if we weren't inside her head. However, this is where the book lost me. I don't like unreliable narrators and ones that are insane or being gaslighted (gaslamped?).

Once I caught on to what was happening, I started to draw my own conclusions about what the cause was and who was to blame (if anyone).  I was right. What I suspected from the very moment I started to suspect anything - about 140 pages in - was exactly what was going on. Everything. This is why I no longer read mysteries.

Finally, with about one hundred pages left, things start to pick up. But it was too little too late for me. And way too many hallucination that felt like bad acid trips. And a narrator that I came awfully close to hating.