The Baskerville Affair is a steampunk fantasy, with all the Victorian atmosphere, fantastic machines, and Sherlockian shenanigans that implies. But it also has a touch of the paranormal, and it’s that magic that plagues and defines the heroine, Evelina Cooper.
Evelina’s mother was Sherlock Holmes’s sister, and from that side of the family she inherits a quick mind and a taste for detection. But her father’s people come from the circus, and they carry a talent for magic in their veins. Gran Cooper taught Evelina the basics, but there wasn’t time for Evelina to learn everything before the Holmes family took her away and sent her to school. There is much Evelina still longs to learn. More than anything, she wishes she could reconcile the world of science and the world of magic, because then she might begin to understand her own dual nature. At the beginning of A Study in Silks, the first book of the series, she has her heart set on attending a women’s college in search of higher learning.
Unfortunately, Evelina can’t simply seek out other magic users. Magic is against the law, and anyone with talent is executed or sent to Her Majesty’s Laboratories as a guinea pig. All kinds of practitioners are treated with equal harshness—there is no difference between the gentle folk magic Gran Cooper taught Evelina and the death magic the sorcerers employ. The laws aren’t about right or wrong, they’re about destroying a power source the ruling Steam Council can’t control. If magic is gone, the common folk have no means to defend themselves or the land.
Folk magic borrows power from devas, or elemental spirits. Most are friendly, although some can be fearsome. Sorcerers don’t use devas, but they do use life force to power their spells—sometimes their own, but usually their victims’. Evelina rightly fears their kind, but before long a mysterious mesmerist named Magnus appears on the scene, wanting to teach Evelina what he knows. Her gut tells her he’s bad news—even if he might be able to give her the answers she longs for, she knows he is just the kind of sorcerer her Gran warned her against.
Unfortunately, knowledge is the one thing that tempts Evelina the most. And though her existing talents allow her to breathe life into Mouse and Bird, her cheeky mechanical spies, before the Baskerville Affair is over she needs stronger magic to defend those she loves. The question is what price she pays for dealing with the dark side of her powers—something Magnus is all too ready to help her to do. He knows she has a rare talent and in too dire a situation to ignore that advantage for long. The question is what—or who—will it cost her before the end?
(Originally published at As the Pages Turn)