The Clockwork Scarab

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The Clockwork Scarab Book Poster Image
Steampunk murder mystery with teen girls intriguing, gory.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Historical fiction fans will enjoy figuring out what's fact and what's fantasy in this alternative Victorian world. One fascinating scene involves a world of tunnels dating from before the current Underground, where people lived, worked, and shopped.

Positive Messages

Some aspects of the story are almost cartoonishly straightforward good vs. evil, with bravery, brains and skill playing a key role. Others are more morally ambiguous; innocents are killed and murderous villains go unpunished.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Both Mina and Evaline show courage and resourcefulness. They're also very different people, who learn by trial and error to respect each other and work together.

Violence

Besides several gruesome murders (the heroines witness one innocent victim being bound and electrocuted) and other violence to young girls, there's a recurring gory scene in which Evaline sees a vampire attacking a man. Street thugs pounce on Evaline and Mina and the girls use weapons, including knives and steam-powered guns, against them.

Sex

Mina and Evaline are horrified by a scene of young women lounging on couches with their ankles exposed. Bare-chested young men (something the girls have never seen before) offer the young women opium pipes. Occasional brief kissing. References to "the pox" (meaning a sexually transmitted disease) in bad neighborhoods.

Language

Evaline in particular has quite a collection of creative expletives, but they're all pretty G-rated. Frequent "bloody," occasional "hell."

Consumerism

The time traveler's description reveals that he's wearing an Aeropostale T-shirt and Levi's jeans. Several references to the adventures of Evaline's vampire-fighting relatives, the subject of author Gleason's many earlier books.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Social drinking seems common, in pubs, parties and elsewhere. One of the teen girl characters gets her first taste of ale from a charmingly dodgy male friend. There are numerous references to opium use, and one scene (which shocks the girls with its decadence) involves bare-chested young men offering opium pipes to lounging young ladies.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Clockwork Scarab is the first young adult novel by longtime vampire-fiction author Colleen Gleason, and includes a recurring, gory scene of a vampire attacking his prey, along with numerous references to "the UnDead." Besides the vampire world, the genre-mashup story includes characters and trappings from detective fiction, steampunk, Egyptology, time travel, and teen romance. There's a scene of an opium party (the heroines do not partake); several young society girls come to a violent end, and the heroines, besides narrowly escaping death themselves, witness a girl being electrocuted.

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What's the story?

In an alternative, steampunk 1880s London, 17-year-old Alvermina (Mina) Holmes, niece of Sherlock, and Evaline Stoker, sister of Bram, receive a mysterious summons from Irene Adler (Sherlock Holmes' onetime love interest). Somebody is killing London's society girls at an alarming rate, and the Crown Princess wants them to investigate. The only clue: a mysterious CLOCKWORK SCARAB found near the bodies. Soon athletic, fashionable vampire slayer Evaline and studious, awkward Mina are putting their talents to work against a formidable villain. They're also dealing with three intrguing young men: a policeman, a thief, and a reluctant time traveler.

Is it any good?

Fans of vampire fiction, historic fiction, steampunk, Sherlock Holmes, or tales of the occult will find intriguing portals into unfamiliar niches in this novel, though some elements never quite gel.

Both the Sherlock Holmes stories and Bram Stoker's Dracula have spawned more than a century's worth of fanfiction, as both Holmesiana and vampire tales have become thriving genres of their own. In that context, The Clockwork Scarab's premise is intriguing, but at least in this first volume of a planned series, not fully realized. As the title's overtones of steampunk and Egyptology suggest, the tale, told in the alternating voices of the two heroines, features a sometimes chaotic collision of genres.

Many issues that remain unresolved will probably return in later books, the first of which is due in 2014.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the steampunk universe: Why is the theme of an electricity-free world so popular? Would you like to live in that world?

  • If you've read other stories involving Sherlock Holmes or Bram Stoker and Dracula, how does this compare? Is there anything about The Clockwork Scarab that sets it apart?

  • Queen Victoria's on the throne, but almost all other women have very little power over anything in their lives. How does this affect Mina, Evaline, and the story?  How would the girls like today's world?

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