Intrigue abounds in A Study in Darkness, the second installment of Emma Jane Holloway’s Baskerville Affair Trilogy. Picking up several months after A Study in Silks , the story plays out like a true sophomore entry. While not as thrilling or as creative as the first, Holloway contrasted the prior society setting with the pauper’s delight. This change of pace catapulted the heroine further into the midst of danger and the reader along with her.
When a bomb goes off at 221B Baker Street, Evelina Cooper is thrown into her uncle Sherlock’s world of mystery and murder. But just when she thought it was safe to return to the ballroom, old, new, and even dead enemies are clamoring for a place on her dance card.
Before Evelina’s even unpacked her gowns for a country house party, an indiscretion puts her in the power of the ruthless Gold King, who recruits her as his spy. He knows her disreputable past and exiles her to the rank alleyways of Whitechapel with orders to unmask his foe.
As danger mounts, Evelina struggles between hiding her illegal magic and succumbing to the darker aspects of her power. One path keeps her secure; the other keeps her alive. For rebellion is brewing, a sorcerer wants her soul, and no one can protect her in the hunting grounds of Jack the Ripper.
Holloway brought so much to her last novel that I was sorely disappointed in A Study in Darkness. I was quite enamored with Halloway’s choice to delve into the seedier side of Victorian London. Unfortunately I found the new setting to be a bit censored, lacking the grit which was integral to the time period. This darker twist had Holloway trying something new and not succeeding. I yearned for some of the lighter humor and thrill of the predecessor and I imagine most readers would as well.
While I enjoyed that the main character Evelina got to see a side of the world she wouldn’t have, thus developing somewhat of a worldly nature, I wasn’t too keen on the direction Holloway went. Many choices Evelina made seemed to be completely opposite to the character’s nature and without much explanation. I liked the final destination of where Evelina grew to, despite it not being fully fleshed out. However, I wish the transition were smoother and readers could watch the character evolve. Unfortunately this was not the case and I was left feeling like I didn’t know the main character at all. If this was Holloway’s intention, there were many ways she might have highlighted that against character actions. As is, Holloway left Evelina’s character development inconsistent and unfocused.
There are many stark differences in A Study in Darkness. Apart from the previously mentioned, the most obvious change was the focus on a side character, Nick, and his endeavors of becoming a pirate. I felt his vignettes were poorly executed and took away from the assets of Holloway’s writing, such as creating a sense of mystery and thrill.
Having read A Study in Darkness, I am of the mind that Holloway is a good writer who simply took a few chances which didn’t play to her talents. While A Study in Darkness wasn’t bad, it lacked the pulse and heart which made A Study in Silks so good. There was nothing I enjoyed nor found entertaining and ultimately it feels like A Study in Darkness is an obligatory second book in a series- one you’ll read once to see what happens between the good entries into the series.