The idea behind The Clockwork Scarab is a good one, and the cover is exquisite, but the potential synergistic fireworks-kapow-bam effect of Sherlock Holmes plus Dracula just didn’t happen for me. The two protagonists and their stories clashed throughout the book, the plot felt underdeveloped and reminiscent of a Harlequin historical romance, and the ending left me unsatisfied with the many loose ends. Adding Egyptian mythology and time travel to the detective-vampire-romance mix, The Clockwork Scarab is too overloaded with “good” ideas that resulted in its identity crisis and lack of drive.
It’s 1998 in London, and Evaline Stoker – sister of Bram Stoker, who later wrote “Dracula,” and descendant of a line of vampire hunters – and Alvermina “Mina” Holmes – niece of Sherlock Holmes – have been summoned to investigate the disappearance of society girls, who have each left behind an Egyptian scarab. Using the scarabs as the first clue, the two use their respective talents to infiltrate a secret society with the help of three handsome men: Dylan Eckhert, who is trying to find his way back home; Inspector Ambrose Grayling, a young detective who is at odds with Mina; and Pix, a mysterious rake with his eyes set on Evaline.
The concept of protagonists as relatives of famous fictional characters is very interesting, and it’s what made me pick up The Clockwork Scarab in the first place. Mina Holmes thinks and acts like the Sherlock in my head (which is BBC’s Sherlock, if you must know). But whereas Sherlock (in my head) comes off as confident and a loner, Mina seems insecure and lonely. Evaline also has her own insecurities due to old vampire traumas that are only mentioned briefly and very vaguely, so I couldn’t really sympathize with her because I didn’t know her backstory. Both protagonists look down on each other because they have such diverging strengths and personalities, and even though I expected a friendship to develop at some point, sometimes I wondered whether they would ever be able to understand each other due to the tension and hostility in their interactions throughout the story. What also irked me was that Mina and Evaline carry out investigations individually more often than as a team, and when they do work together, they suck at it. But since Gleason is making this into a series, I’m assuming that Mina and Evaline’s relationship will get better with time.
Despite their differences, the one weakness that both Mina and Evaline have is boys. In Mina’s case, she has two men whom she feels attracted to, but her feelings don’t go anywhere because no one takes action. And Evaline gets all the action, since her dude comes straight out of the pages of some historical romance paperback, and he makes the headstrong Evaline feel all mushy inside with his deep voice and sleek body and pushing-girl-against-wall tendencies. Honestly, I could’ve done without the boys because I wanted more friendship and action action, but I think The Clockwork Scarab is trying to gain a foothold in multiple genres at once.
In addition to the smidgen of romance, The Clockwork Scarab also incorporates many themes that are popular right now. Egyptian mythology, for one, is the most prevalent, seeing as how Egyptian scarabs are used as the main plot driver. I think Gleason did a decent job incorporating Egyptian mythology into the storyline, scoring somewhere between the other two books I’ve read that included bits of Egyptian mythology; but because the story ends without much of a resolution, I still don’t understand why Egyptian mythology was used. Again, this is probably something that will be given more attention to in the sequel. And there’s also some time travel bits that haven’t been fully explored, as well as the vampire stuff, so altogether I have very VERY high expectations for the next book
Even with the interesting premise, The Clockwork Scarab is off to a rough start in terms of relationship and plot development. It’s an all-in-one kind of book that’s “getting there” – getting where? That I don’t know. But many potential storylines have been started, with none fully resolved, so if this book is on your list, you might want to wait until the next one comes out before reading this one.