The Dark Victorian: Risen is set in a steampunk London with magic and paranormal aspects. Jim, an agent of Prince Albert’s Secret Commission, is given a new partner: Artifice, a Quaker and artificial ghost (meaning that she can turn incorporeal at will). All agents of the Secret Commission were once criminals - they were executed and then brought back to life, bound into service, with no memory of who they once were. They are able to guess some things about their past selves, but that’s about it. It generally isn’t a good idea for them to find and communicate with people they once knew.
Artifice, who chooses to go by the name Art, and Jim begin investigating their first case, the disastrous reanimation of several corpses. The culprit started with animals but appears to have moved on to humans. In each instance, the corpses manage to kill someone before either being destroyed or escaping.
It took me a bit to get my bearings in this story. The Secret Commission wasn’t really a secret. Everyone seemed to know who and what they were, even if they weren’t always comfortable around them or happy about them. I also initially had the impression that Art was supposed to be an unusual sort of agent, but that didn’t seem to be the case either. She had special abilities, just like Jim, although hers were of a different sort, and she had the same limitations. Her primary oddity was that she was a Quaker, someone Jim would have thought would be unlikely to become an agent of the Secret Commission.
The world and setup were pretty interesting. Jim and Art each had their own abilities, and both were technically immortal as long as they consumed enough of whatever their particular bodies needed. Jim, a disembodied skull, could feed off of fire and smoke. Art needed raw seafood.
The story was a fairly simple one and would have worked fine in several urban fantasy and steampunk mystery series I can think of. The problem was that it was a bit buried. I understand that this is the first work in a series and is meant to whet readers’ appetite for more, but there were lots of details that were unnecessary for this particular story and could easily have been left out. As it was, it felt too large for its page count.
The pacing was a bit strange, too. Jim and Art would be chasing after the killer and investigating the murders, only to stop for a bit in order to make sure that Art was properly clothed. Okay, so she needed to be properly dressed for propriety’s sake, but it killed the flow of the story and made it easy to forget what the point of it all was. By the time one particular character made her second appearance, I had already forgotten who she was and why she might be important.
Despite my issues with this work, there's still a chance I'll continue on with this series. The second work is much longer and might therefore give everything more room to breathe - it’s possible that Watasin is one of those writers who does better with longer works than shorter ones. I wouldn’t mind seeing Jim and Art in action a bit more, and Art’s potential romances intrigue me, even as they worry me a bit. At this point she has two potential love interests: Manon, a “sapphic performer,” and Helia, Art’s lover in her past life. Both options are potential minefields for Art, Manon because she isn’t human and I suspect Art could end up wanting more from her than she’s willing and able to give, and Helia because of her curse.
(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)