Spoiler free summary: In Clara’s Diary by Angelique S. Anderson, Detective Desmond is a man haunted by the death of his daughter. When a new case lands on his desk that is disturbingly similar to his daughter’s death, Desmond is plunged (OK, I’m going to take this pun for all it’s worth), into a mystery that ties to the strange octopus people who live in this steampunk world. On such person, Sadie, helps Desmond, and her past is the key to all of Desmond’s questions.
Character: In terms of the standard measurements of character (sympathy, competence, proactivity), these characters are ok. I think the reason they suffer is they have odd bouts of incompetence in situations their characters should be the most confident. At every point there should be tension, there’s a brief conversation, and the conflict is resolved in an unfortunately boring way. What could have been a very compelling factor in this relationship ark felt cast aside because the author had a clear idea where they were supposed to end. The problem is, the end is supposed to be a conclusion of a journey, not an objective that denies any twists and turns because the end is more important, and that’s what I think happened here. Desmond is supposed to be this “Sherlock-like” detective (and that is a challenge as well), and the first thing he does is completely wreck a crime scene he probably shouldn’t have been in to begin with. Those little inconsistencies undercut what was actually a pretty charming story.
Exposition: This was actually pretty good. Sure, we have the inevitable dialogue world history, but how else is the reader going to learn about these octopus-human hybrids? So while there were parts that were a bit dumpy is some places, it wasn’t an amount that I didn’t expect. Could it have been better? Yes. Was it so bad it ruined the story? No.
Worldbuilding: This is probably the strength of the story. It has a bit of the same feel as Carnival Row (without the constant sex, which I appreciated). We have this species of sentient beings that are in this world and that world has origins (which are actually pretty important to the plot). The presence of the wordlbuilding was great. The execution is probably what held this story back for me. If you can fast-forward or skip the spicy scenes and focus on the world building of Carnival Row, you see what that show did well that this book didn’t do so well. However, I still feel this book is better because the content is much more appropriate. Still, that doesn’t mean I can’t analyze the storytelling aspects of the two. Diary gives us the history and scope of this world through exposition hidden in dialogue. This story would have been better served if we saw this world expand. Yes, it would have expanded the size of the novel, but I don’t mind that much.
Dialogue: So the portions of dialogue that were clearly there to provide exposition through the character’s point of view do drag the story down, but the dialogue is actually pretty charming. Sadie shines in this regard. It’s clever, and the characters have unique voices. The conversations between Desmond and Sadie were a big part of what kept me reading. (I always finish a book, even if I hate it, but reading this book wasn’t nearly as difficult as some others.)
Description: I wonder if any steampunk fans have read this story. You see, I expected much more description here than I got. Steampunk is all about the gadgets and romanticism of a period that wasn’t actually so romantic. Yet this story was pretty sparse. Sure, it had description, and I didn’t personally feel like I was missing out. But a part of me was mentally prepared for these huge blocks of description that just weren’t in this story. I don’t know if that’s common or not. This is probably the second or third steampunk book I’ve read. I think it was better than one, and a little less fun than the other (coming in a future review). So while I didn’t have a problem with the lack of description, I only call it a lack because of what I expected. My question for steampunk fans is: How much description do you expect in a steampunk story?
Overall: The story is charming in its presentation, but it really falls short as a mystery because it was either super predictable or super convoluted. The author didn’t do herself any favors because we always got a giant block of dialogue-hidden exposition right before the “reveal.” That really spoiled it. Instead of sprinkling clues along the way for the reader to gobble up, the author smashed us over the head with a giant sign that (metaphorically) read “You need to know this before you read the next part!” This is a story that I still liked because the characters were actually adorable, but if you love mystery, you’ll feel differently.
Thanks for reading,