Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: September 1, 2012
Genre: Young Adult Steampunk
A spine-tingling tale of steampunk and spies, intrigue and heart-racing romance!
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. With twists and turns at every corner, this heart-racing adventure will captivate readers with its intrigue, thrills, and romance.
I pretty much begged Scholastic to send me The Dark Unwinding because I loved the synopsis and I want to read more steampunk. I’m getting a little burned out on contemporary, I admit, and steampunk is mostly my unexplored frontier. This? Is not steampunk. It’s light young adult Regency gothic suspense if there can be such a thing. I’m glad certain elements were explained as natural occurrences or I’d have to add “paranormal” to the list, causing my tag system to explode. It was a fairly good read, whatever it was, and considering my month in review, I was happy to take it.
Katherine Tulman’s odious Aunt Alice has sent her to Stranwyne Keep to perform a most unpleasant task: she’s to take a perfunctory glance at her Uncle Tully and have him declared a lunatic to be committed. Alice’s concern for her brother-in-law’s health coincidentally appeared when she started having concerns that Uncle Tully was squandering the estate that’s to pass to her dim-witted son after his death. Since Katherine is under her thumb and dependent on her, she gets to do Alice’s dirty work. The residents of Stranwyne know perfectly well why she’s there and plan on making her stay as uncomfortable as possible and Uncle Tully as hard to find as they can. This isn’t going to be any perfunctory – or pleasant – visit.
Very reluctantly, most likely hoping Katherine has a mental disease of her own, Uncle Tully’s assistant of sort Lane takes her to his workshop where they live. It’s full of fantastical inventions – and a muttering, oblivious Uncle Tully who’s calm one moment, raging the next. Tossed out of the workshop, Katherine goes exploring what she thought was the town, only to find it’s actually part of Stranwyne. What was originally a little issue of estate-squandering has become questionable spending of epic proportions. Uncle Tully is underwriting an entire village rescued from the workhouses.
Katherine’s motives for going to Stranwyne aren’t simply for her cousin. She has her own future to secure and while it felt like a great reason for some of her arguments in the beginning, it seemed like a plot gimmick later in the book and turned me off when it was used. To be truthful, I had a hard time fully liking Katherine. Sure, she was sweet with her Uncle. I loved their interactions, how she was able to find ways to connect with him and spend time with him. It was great that she wanted to get to know the town, to spend time with Lane and try to make other friends. But Katherine wasn’t honest about her plans for her uncle and Stranwyne Keep. I think for some readers this isn’t going to be an issue – she’s an interesting character for the Regency period, happy to explore things, bright and stubborn. For me though, it cast a pall over the story and was hard to forget sometimes.
As Katherine goes about learning the town and spending time with her uncle, she draws the attention of two men. Lane, her Uncle Tully’s assistant, is close to her age and even if he’s a jerk and pretty moody at first, he’s more sincere and playful when he opens up. Ben, a student interested in Uncle Tully’s inventions is very smooth and nice from the beginning. So, you know. Most likely trouble. There’s no insta-love between anyone. None. Not even insta-semi-lust or anything. If I hadn’t been sitting down, I might have fallen over and hit my head. I loved that. Everyone’s feelings were allowed to develop gradually throughout the book – no one automatically liked or loved anyone, no relationship was automatically fine. It was a lovely thing to read, especially when it came to Uncle Tully, because I wondered if the urge was strong to make him instantly respond to Katherine and get “better.”
I’ll backtrack on that a little. Uncle Tully does respond a little bit to Katherine, more than anyone expects. But he’s still what he is. I’m no expert on autism, but I’m going to climb into Coleman’s head and think that she was attempting to portray a man with Asperger’s Syndrome. He seems to fit most of what I know of the signs, including social problems, repetitive behaviors and obsessive interests. He’s very child-like and I think it did a disservice to the book that he was rarely lucid, anything approaching normal or able to appear much in the story. He felt tacked on, like a plot device rather than an actual character.
As I said at the beginning, this feels like gothic Regency-lite. The house at Stranwyne Keep fits the bill, a dusty, musty labyrinth full of secrets and mysterious laughter. There were some plot oddities that I never quite figured out – I wondered if I’d missed something, but when I paged back to look, I think they were just poorly worded passages, not something the rest of the book suffered from. Cameron has an easy style, suitable for even young teen readers.
My Summary: My search for steampunk goes on, but this was a nice interlude anyway. The plot was nicely executed, I liked the way the relationships between Katherine, Lane and Ben played out and I was delighted to see the inclusion of a character with Asperger’s. So I didn’t get all of Uncle Tully that I wanted and Katherine didn’t turn out to be a character that I completely loved – it was still enjoyable and I’ll check out Cameron’s next book.