“Well then,” Wellington began, “the House of Usher is apparently supplying rebels with inferior, supernatural technology, India is on the brink of war with Mother England, all while a madman possessing the ability to turn ordinary people into ten feet monsters is on the loose.”
Eliza bobbed her head, her lips bent in a smirk. “Just another day at the Ministry.”
“Shall I go put the kettle on?”
Just in case you thought things were going to settle down for the Ministry following the events around the Diamond Jubilee, well, forget it. The Agency is recruiting and training new members, reassigning others, and sending their experienced agents all over to help get things back under control
The somewhat unlikely pairing of Agent Bruce Campbell (and seriously, what a great character/tribute) and Brandon Hill is turning out to be a great combination (even if Hill spent too much time with Kellogg and his kooky health theories last time he was in the States). The two go off to Russia in search of an artifact needed by the Ministry, and find themselves in the middle of something big. Potentially very big. Thankfully, there's plenty of vodka on hand to help.
Things aren't going swimmingly for the House of Usher and Jeckyll at the moment, either -- there's some internal shakeups/restructuring with the House which should prove to be important for the Ministry. And Jeckyll's, well, he's not taking the loss of his royal patient (and everything else that happened in the last book) too well.
Sophia del Morte, of course, makes her presence known as only she can. When she's not trying to kill Books and Braun, she's really one of their most reliable allies. This time she has a vital piece of intelligence or two, that'll not only impact this book, but (I wager) the next. Also, she brings all the right sorts of weapons to every occasion . . .
Meanwhile, while the Ministry rebuilds, Agents Books and Braun are off trying to take care of Jekyll's remaining and scattered associates. This brings them to India, where they encounter an old friend, an old acquaintance and some ghosts -- literal and figurative. Before they know it, they find themselves in the middle of struggles between the British army and assorted groups of Indian rebels wanting to be rid of said Army (and the rest of the government). The links between Jeckyll and this conflict are surprising, and may put a strain on our protagonists' relationships with various entities.
One thing that isn't strained, is the relationship between Books and Braun -- their young love is still going strong, and is a pleasure to read. Well, okay, there's one little strain -- Wellington Books himself. We've seen hints -- signs -- of what Usher and his father had done to Wellington, but now we see more than just signs -- we see almost the full-fledged results of what they did. These results are both frightening and astonishing (which is pretty much what Eliza and Wellington felt).
I bet I've somehow neglected to talk about the chapter titles in any of the previous novels -- shame on me. And if I have mentioned them, they need to be mentioned again. They're easily something overlooked as one reads -- because, really, who cares? -- these are not to be missed. Witty, understated and full of Steampunk sensibilities. I don't know if I've ever wondered about this before with any book, but I do wonder how much time they spend crafting these. My guess is that it's harder than it looks.
I enjoyed the new characters (Bruce's new pal in particular), and getting to see a couple of old ones in new ways. And it's always fun to see Eliza, Wellington, Bruce, Brandon and Sophia. I just had such a good time with this. In many ways, this book was just setting the table for the next, and final, installment in the series. But the character development, revelations, and overall entertainment value of the book kept this from just being a way to move pieces around. There was real excitement, good character moments (even from an Usher member or two), and a whole lotta fun, with an ending that leaves you really wanting the next installment.. I really can't wait to see what the authors have in store for us next -- it'll be great.
Disclaimer: I received an eARC copy from the authors in exchange for an honest review. Also, I backed the Kickstarter for this book. Also, I liked every other book in this series, so I wasn't exactly an objective reader going in. Not that I ever am.