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Katharine Tulman is used to doing her snooty aunt's dirty work—literally and figuratively. Without Aunt Alice's charity, the 17-year-old would be on the streets, so she keeps her head down and does what has to be done, whether it's reprimanding one of the servants, pawning jewelry to keep the widow's estate running or cleaning up after her spoiled younger cousin, Robert. Katharine's newest assignment, though, has to be the most repugnant of all. Aunt Alice is convinced her brother, Frederick, is squandering the family fortune, of which Robert is the sole heir. Katharine's task? To assess the situation—meaning she must find evidence of Frederick's insanity and ensure that he's locked away in a lunatic asylum, thus freeing up funds for Robert and his greedy mother. It won't be a pleasant task—which is why Aunt Alice refuses to do it herself—so Katharine must grit her teeth and be done with it. She can't risk losing her guardian's favor.
One look at Stranwyne Keep, her uncle's crumbling old mansion, and Katharine's ready to bolt. Roaming its strange interior, which is cluttered with ticking clocks and creepy automatons, does nothing to soothe her anxiety. Something is not right at her uncle's residence. Not right at all. It's clear Stranwyne Keep's tiny staff—only a stiff housekeeper, a mute boy, and a mysterious young man about her age—can't wait to be rid of Katharine. She's glad to leave, but not before she sees her uncle, a meeting the staff continues to delay.
When the secret of Stranwyne Keep is finally revealed to Katharine, she doesn't know what to do. Can she rat out the gentle "Mr. Tully," thus endangering every single person at the Keep? Or does she risk her own livelihood by lying to Aunt Alice? The longer she stays with her uncle, the more she wants to shield him and Stranwyne Keep from the outside world. But how does she protect the mysteries of her uncle's estate, especially when she doesn't know them all? With her heart and head both in a whirl, Katharine must make an impossible decision, one that could bring destruction down on a whole group of innocent people. And destroy the only happiness Katharine's ever known.
The Dark Unwinding, the first book in Sharon Cameron's steampunk YA series, is as intricately wound as one of Mr. Tully's clocks. With engaging characters, an intriguing mystery and a plot that keeps you guessing, it's one of those novels that appeals from its first word to its last. I love how the story moves quickly when it matters, but not so fast that it skimps on world and relationship-building. Cameron's slow, steady story-sculpting guaranteed that I cared—about the characters, about their world, and about how Katharine's choices would affect them all. In case you can't tell, I adored this clean, compelling story. I'm pretty sure you will, too.
(Readalikes: A Spark Unseen by Sharon Cameron)
If this were a movie, it would be rated:
for brief, mild language, violence and intense situations
To the FTC, with love: I received a copy of The Dark Unwinding from the generous folks at Scholastic. Thank you!