I found book one of the Dark Victorian series, Risen, by Elizabeth Watasin free on my Kindle App. It looked like my type of reading, which is still important even if the book is free, it was set in the Victorian period, looked a bit steam punky, and had a skull on it. I’ve had moderate success when I pick random free books, so I was still a bit wary. However, this was my most successful, random, free book on Kindle to date.
It is 1880 in a mechanical and supernatural London. Agents of Prince Albert’s Secret Commission, their criminal pasts wiped from their memories, are resurrected to fight the eldritch evils that threaten England. Amidst this turmoil, Jim Dastard and his new partner Artifice must stop a re-animationist raising murderous dead children. As Art and Jim pursue their quarry, Art discovers clues about her past self, and through meeting various intriguing women—a journalist, a medium, a prostitute, and a mysterious woman in black—where her heart lies. Yet the question remains: What sort of criminal was she? A new beginning, a new identity, and new dangers await Art as she fights for the Secret Commission and for her second life. (Synopsis from GoodReads)
The premise for the book was intriguing. Dead people brought to life to make up for past deeds. I liked that there was a story in this book that ended, the dead murderous children mystery is wrapped up, but the mystery of who Art was, is only just beginning. I enjoyed the character Jim Dastard, a talking skull, perhaps due to his likeness to Bob from Harry Dresden, but mostly because he had some of the best lines.
There were a few things that were a bit odd. A little out of place was the fact that Art is Quaker but adept at fighting and hitting on women. However, it’s possible all of this explained as more about Art’s past is revealed. Also a bit odd was that the author could have set this in any time period she wanted, she’s the creator after all, but has her main character dislike many of the things about the Victorian era, and even goes about modifying clothes so her fighting makes sense. While they do this on Warehouse 13 with H.G. Wells, perhaps the disjointed feeling is that Warehouse 13 is purposefully campy and gets away with sideways turns of characters while this gothic steampunk book takes itself seriously.
These are minor questions that were raised as I read, in the end Risen is a very good book. The writing is excellent, the concepts are intriguing, and the characters have the feel of fully fleshed out individuals even if all the parts of them aren’t revealed in the first book. The author clearly knows where she is going with her story, and a fun story it is! I know the murderous dead kids seems a bit gruesome, but even that is done well, and I’m known to like things a bit dark, so I was not put off by that. If you like steampunk with a twist of darkness, the magic arts, and talking skulls, give this series a chance.