Friday, February 15, 2013

What I Read Last Week

What I Read This Week . . .

The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron -- Young Adult Historical Fiction

In 1852, a young lady of no fortune has very little options in life. Seventeen-year-old Katharine Tulman knows she will never marry. She is indebted to her aunt and greedy little cousin for her room and board. In return, she keeps the books for her aunt, something that gives her a comfortable, if unwelcome position in the household. Katharine is told to travel to Yorkshire to commit her uncle to a madhouse for spending the family fortune on who knows what. At first Katharine discovers a creepy, old, decaying mansion with an unfriendly housekeeper and a mute boy for company. She isn't allowed to see her uncle right away, not until "playtime." Katharine soon discovers that her uncle is a genius inventor of clockwork figures and toys. Her uncle, capricious and childlike trusts very few people; only Lane, his trusted keeper and sometimes Ben Aldridge, a handsome man who lives in the village and has an interest in the workshop. The locals are suspicious of Katharine, and rightly so, for if she sends her uncle away, hundreds of people will be sent back to the workhouse. Katharine feels badly about betraying her uncle and his workers and ruining her budding friendship with a certain young man, but she feels she has to look out for herself. As the days turn into weeks, Katharine becomes more and more torn about her decision. When mysterious events happen to Katharine, she begins to doubt her own sanity. She doesn't know who to trust or who to turn to. Only the portrait of her late grandmother outside her bedroom provides any sort of comfort. How can she do what is right if she doesn't know what right is or what is happening to her? 

This dark, Gothic suspense story in tradition of Jane Eyre grabbed me right away and I had a very difficult time putting it down. The description on Amazon is misleading - this book is Victorian Gothic and not steampunk, but it does contain detailed descriptions about the making of clockwork figures. The plot takes so many twists and turns that even though I suspected WHAT and WHO, my opinion changed over and over and I never expected WHY or HOW or the direction the story takes after that mystery is solved. Some of the resolution is predictable but otherwise, the story will keep you reading until the last page is done. The romance plot left me unsatisfied though I felt it was a little bit predictable. There's room for a sequel/companion novel too. The descriptions of the estate were so detailed, I felt like I could see everything Katharine was doing. The technical descriptions of the clockwork mechanisms and mathematical equations are a bit much for me. The characters are very interesting and unique. Katharine is a bit unlikeable at first. She's selfish and can seem cruel at times, yet she's also compassionate and passionate. She's a math whiz, like her uncle, and I hate to sound like a stereotypical girl, but I can not abide math so I couldn't like that about her. I felt she was a bit too naive at times and could have prevented a lot of the gothic plot by being more aware. Her suitors are very different from each other. One is a bit surly and I wondered if he was supposed to be a Heathcliff type and the other is a typical gentleman. I liked Katharine's relationship with the brooding type character but not with the other gentleman. My favorite characters were sweet Davy and his hare Bertram and Mary. Mary provides the comic relief in the story. If you like Jane Eyre, The Secret Garden, gothic  romances, and The Adventures of Hugo Cabret, you will undoubtedly like this one. See also Magic Under Glass.

Visit Sharon Camerson's website to see the estate that inspired the novel.

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