Title: The Janus Affair
Genre: steampunk, mystery, historical fiction
Series: Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences #2
Pages: 432 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: expected May 29 2012
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Evildoers beware! Retribution is at hand, thanks to Britain's best-kept secret agents!
Certainly no strangers to peculiar occurrences, agents Wellington Books and Eliza Braun are nonetheless stunned to observe a fellow passenger aboard Britain's latest hypersteam train suddenly vanish in a dazzling bolt of lightning. They soon discover this is not the only such disappearance . . . with each case going inexplicably unexamined by the Crown.
The fate of England is once again in the hands of an ingenious archivist paired with a beautiful, fearless lady of adventure. And though their foe be fiendishly clever, so then is Mr. Books . . . and Miss Braun still has a number of useful and unusual devices hidden beneath her petticoats.
I loved this. Absolutely. Frikkin. Loved it. I tried to draw out the experience and couldn't make myself stop reading the second day. Without a doubt, this impressive second novel in the newer Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series is going into my "best of 2012" shelf as well as my much less used "all-time favorites." I think I may even have loved this book like I love my hallmark series of steampunk, Gail Carriger's formidably funny and inventive Parasol Protectorate series. I literally have nothing to complain about here, and that is rare. That's a lot of praise for a book to live up to, but The Janus Affair is that rare novel, the one that manages to be delightful, zany, action-packed and original from inception to execution. Please excuse and recognize my blatant and epic fangirling for what it is -- that classic kneejerk reaction of happiness that happens right after finishing an unexpected treat - not everyone in the world will be wowed with this foray into Edwardian steampunkery but boy I was. Though the first novel Phoenix Rising wasn't quiiiite as perfect, this is the steampunk series everyone should be reading now that Alexia has
wrapped up her five novel arc hung up her written parasol duties. While the main events of book two of the MoPO were neatly and explosively wrapped up without my predicting the outcome (once again, thanks to the amazing Eliza Braun), I will count the minutes wait patiently until I can get my grabby little hands on whatever else next springs from the fertile minds of Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris.
By far and away, a third of my love for this book is due entirely to the two main characters at the heart of everything, Eliza Braun and Wellington Books. (The other 2/3rds are reserved for steampunkery, excellent/unpredictable and intelligent antagonists and sheer madcap adventure.) Their banter and genuine camaraderie are prone to bustups and petty fights, but it's the underlying respect and genuine feeling of friendship between that makes reading these two feel less like characters and more like real people. It helps that Eliza is a heoine to shame most other heroines - she's brash and coarse and willful and exactly whatever she wants to be. I love Eliza - I always liked her, from the first chapter of book one, but midway through this, I knew I loved her. (This was the exact moment: "In New Zealand, there had been such sweetness to their courtship, but back then she had been quite a different person. Still a little reckless, but in the way of a young woman not yet as familiar with black powder and explosions.") Her characterization is seemingly blunt and obvious (EXPLODE ALL THE THINGS!), but through interactions and over time and pages, with her Ministry Seven, Welly, and the women she relentlessly helps, Eliza is revealed to be much more than just a mere colonial or pistol-loving walking armoury. Wellington Books has been my absolute favorite character from the start and that is only reinforced through his evolution during the last two novels, but The Janus Affair particularly illustrated him as a man of many facets. His dry humour is still very much in tact ("Once more into the breach.." "Sorry, Welly, what was that?" "Shakespeare. I always recite it just before placing my career in harm's way.") These are definitely not stagnant characters - they grow and change, make mistakes and adapt, and most importantly, they help one another. The working relationship between the two has evolved to be effective and natural - Books can more than count on Eliza to save him from danger as many times as he saves her.
Steampunk itself seems to be evolving to blend quite naturally with two other, less fantastical genres - mystery and romance. The Janus Affair does have more than a bit of both and handles each element quite admirably - as Books would say, with aplomb. I never felt that one was cheated at the expense of the other - never does any romantic entanglement supersede the plot, nor does the mystery overwhelm the sense of compatibility and chemistry between the Sherlockian main characters. I have to think that these two authors work together more cohesively than any other pairing I've yet come across - Tee Morris and Pip Ballantine complement each other naturally and Though a lot of steampunk novels have the secret organization paired with "agents" used to protect Old Blighty from the supernatural (Parasol Protectorate, Newbury & Hobbes Investigations) and solve paranormal crimes, co-authors Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris go to extreme
ly awesome lengths to create a wholly enveloped and imagined alternate universe for their characters to play within. (They even have a ton of novellas - often by other authors - in the same universe with different characters! There are editions you can purchase, or as free podcasts.) Much like their imagined version of 1800's Britain, the steampunk machines and gadgets used by the cast are wholly original, fun and useful without becoming deux-ex-machinas. I especially liked that something from the first book was referenced and used as a slight part of the plot for the second (the "aethergates" anyone?) - it reinforces the feel that this version of England is an ongoing world, not just unconnected vignettes into random episodes.
The Janus Affair, simply put, is a book that has a lot to offer across a wide variety of areas. Original plotting, genuinely twisty and murky mysteries with a high body count, several strong female characters, amusing banter, original and highly creative use of steampunk and gadgets, veeery smart and fully capable antagonists, the slight but oh-so effective romance, double agents, explosions and more. As I said, the main events and plot of this book have been neatly and effectively wrapped up, but there are some few exceptions to the rule. I don't want to spoil anything from the novel because this really is a fun mystery to try and solve independently, but there are juicy, unresolved plot tendrils enough to ensure that readers from books one and two will want to read the planned third to figure out the Maestro's plans.