April 4, 2013

The Dark Unwinding: A Panoramic Review

"A thrilling tale of 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 remote English estate to have him committed to an asylum. But instead of a lunatic, Katharine discovers a genius inventor with his own set of childlike 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 has grown to care for—a conflict made even more complicated by a handsome apprentice, a mysterious 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 they know it. With twists and turns and breathtaking romance at every corner, this thrilling adventure will captivate readers.
" (from Goodreads)

The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron

My reaction: I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it was very entertaining! I wasn't that into it for the first few chapters, as it was a little confusing trying to figure out what was going on and keeping track of all these characters. But then it started getting really good, the mystery becoming complicated with lots of red herrings, and me repeatedly questioning who was "good" and who was "bad."

It isn't exactly action-packedthere are certain scenes with a lot of action going on and others where not that much happens beyond Katharine picking up hints/cluesbut there's usually a little push of momentum moving it forward. There are a couple intense, dramatic climactic scenes (spoilers, highlight to read: the scene with the flood! And the scene with Katharine getting opium poisoning and the bunny being shot!). The end is more drawn-out than some books in that there are a couple climactic scenes, and the last few chapters happen over a larger span of time than the rest of the book. I thought one of the villains was trumped a little too easily (spoilers: the aunt... I didn't actually follow all the ins and outs of the legal thing), although since she was a real piece of work I was glad she got some comeuppance.

I did find the whole politics-and-inventions storyline (involving Ben Aldridge) to be rather tenuous and far-fetched, requiring some suspension of disbelief. So too does the fact that there are that many mysterious things going on. But pretty much everything is accounted for in the end, and it makes sense that it isn't all explained away by a single storyline.

Best aspect: The characters. They have a lot of personality, and are each quite distinct. Moreover, they aren't split really evenly into "good guy"/"bad guy" camps. I like that Cameron gives many of her characters complexity and depth, making some of them not so easy to categorize one way or the other.

Katharine's not perfect, but her flaws aren't ones that really irritate me. She has a bit of a tendency to think she knows best, and not to be quite that open-minded to other people's ideas. It's like she just shuts everything else out, and sees only very stark, either/or black-and-white choices; she doesn't pause to consider that maybe there's a way for her to reach her objective without giving something else up. Also, she doesn't really like to make herself vulnerable, which means it's difficult for her and Lane to get together, because she keeps pushing him out. That said, I enjoyed the romance we do get (and would have liked more of it!). Lane is so frustating a character in some ways (he's not the most emotionally stable, for one thing), but if he's decided he can trust you, then he is very loyal. He can be fun at times, but he is predominantly serious, especially when it comes to Mr. Tully. It was sweet to see the romantic lead concerned not just about the protagonist, but also about secondary characters like her uncle, his aunt, and Davy. While Lane doesn't show affection that openly, in his own way he certainly demonstrates how he feels about others.

I found the uncle to be a fascinating character. Although it's never specifically stated, I believe he's supposed to be an autistic savant. I definitely think he falls somewhere on the autism spectrum, as there are several clear indicators that he has an autism spectrum disorder — his temper tantrums, his need for routine, his discomfort with social contact, the fact that being swaddled by a blanket soothes him... Then there's the "savant" aspect: his talent for mental math and invention. I would definitely be interested to know what kind of diagnosis he would receive nowadays.

Mary was so much fun. She's one of those talkative types that just leaps off the page — an unintentionally amusing chatterbox. Everything she says is sort of leading to a point in a roundabout way, but you're not really sure how she gets there. She looks out for Katharine in her way, trying to be the best ladies' maid she can. Really, Mary's one of those honest, open, good-hearted characters you can't help but like, even if she's not super clever.

If I could change something... I would up the romance factor. I can enjoy a slow-burn romance as much as the next person, but this was...crawling. I think Katharine and Lane complement each other quite well; the dislike-at-first-sight turning to trust, then turning to love is almost always an enjoyable storyline to read. But once we finally got there...it needed a little more heat! I don't think it's too much to ask for after sitting through such a long, slow build.

If you haven't read it: and you enjoy Gothic mysteries with a cast of distinctive characters, pick this one up! In particular, I'd recommend it for readers who liked Picture the Dead by Adele Griffin, Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey, or Sorcery & Cecelia by Patricia Wrede & Caroline Stevermer.

If you have read it: who wants Katharine to go to Paris in the next book? Hands? If she took along her ladies' maid I bet Mary would die of happiness.

Just one more thing I want to mention: The Dark Unwinding has the Gothic feel down-pat.
Some of the character's roles conform to stereotypes of Gothic novels, but not too terribly; it doesn't feel like this is a book I've read many times before. The steampunk element isn't heavy-handed or overwhelming, but fits in well with the character of the uncle.

Final verdict: 4.5 shooting stars. Overall I actually don't have that much to criticize (which is unusual for me!). I was very impressed, and I'm definitely looking forward to seeing Katharine's adventures continue in the next book.


  1. I haven't heard much about this but it sounds good and it's interesting that it doesn't have a strong emphasis on the romance

    1. Yeah, it's a nice change to have a YA that's not *all* about the romance (although I'm hoping to see a little more of it in book 2, LOL!)

  2. I was really disappointed with this one because I thought it was going to be a full-on steampunk novel. If I had read more early reviews that shared about the Gothic mystery aspect, I think I would have ended up happier.

    1. Sorry to hear that! :( I can totally understand that reaction, since the steampunk aspect in here really is quite understated. Personally that was fine by me because I'm not the biggest fan of steampunk (at least not yet...maybe that will change!), but I suspect anyone expecting a traditional steampunk read would be disappointed by this one.

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