Steampunk Detective Heroines

The Chess Queen Enigma: A Stoker & Holmes Novel, by Colleen Gleason, (Chronicle Books), 360 pages, release date 6 October, 2015, marketed by the publisher as a title for grades 7 through 12

I’m delighted that a new Stoker and Holmes novel has been released. In case you aren’t familiar with this series (The Chess Queen Enigma is volume three), yes, the last names are familiar. The Stoker is Evaline, sister and ward of brother Bram, the author of Dracula; the Holmes is Alvermina (though she prefers to shorten it to Mina), the daughter of Sherlock Holmes’ older brother Mycroft.

These two young women live in an alternate, steampunk London, where handleless parasols hover mechanically over women’s heads and multi-level streets are anchored by balloons. There’s more to their world, however, than these sorts of frivolous mechanisms. In The Chess Queen Enigma readers learn that the decision to use steam power, rather than electric, may not be a matter of public safety, as the government claims, but a policy designed to enrich powerful men with investments in the steam industry. (Sound familiar?)

The chess Queen of the title once belonged to Elizabeth I and is now being returned to England by the princess of Betrovia, thus ending a long feud between the two nations. Stoker and Holmes are the princess’ unwilling chaperones, trying to protect her from both scandal and danger. Their assignment prevents them from continuing investigations into the identity of their long-time nemesis, the Ankh, with as much energy as they’d like—though they’re surprised and (nervously) delighted to find that the princess is willing to work with them on this project.

With each new volume in this series, I find myself growing increasingly fond of Stoker and Holmes. Their characters balance each other well and provide readers with a wonderful blend of adventure, originality, humor, and quirky feminist impulses. If you have a reader (particularly a female one) in you life between the ages of twelve and eighteen, this title would make a well-received gift. And, if you’re like me, you may find it a treat for older readers as well.

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