Saturday, November 10, 2012

Review: The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron

The Dark UnwindingAuthor: Sharon Cameron
Genre:  Steampunk, Historical Fiction
Pages: 318
Published: September 1, 2012
Publisher: Scholastic
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Source:  I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

"When Katharine Tulman's inheritance is called into question by the rumor that her eccentric uncle is squandering away the family fortune, she is sent to his estate to have him committed to an asylum. But instead of a lunatic, Katharine discovers a genius inventor with his own set of rules, who employs a village of nine hundred people rescued from the workhouses of London.
Katharine is now torn between protecting her own inheritance and preserving the peculiar community she grows to care for deeply. And her choices are made even more complicated by a handsome apprentice, a secretive student, and fears for her own sanity.
As the mysteries of the estate begin to unravel, it is clear that not only is her uncle's world at stake, but also the state of England as Katharine knows it. With twists and turns at every corner, this heart-racing adventure will captivate readers with its intrigue, thrills, and romance."~Goodreads

 When The Dark Unwinding was first introduced to me it was described as having a Jane Eyre feel.  This is a highly dangerous thing to say to me as Jane Eyre and I have a long-standing love affair going back at least 15 years.  Bronte's novel is my hands-down favorite book of all time, the book I would pick if I could only read one for the rest of my life.  The story is very special to me, so when someone tells me that a book is like Jane Eyre I am immediately cynical and sometimes snarky.  Still, the plot for this new Gothic novel was similar and it sounded quite interesting so I decided to give it a go.  While it, of course, could never live up to Miss Eyre's story for me, I was pleasantly surprised by just how much I loved The Dark Unwinding.  

  • Amazing characters - This story is very much driven by the characters.  In fact, I don't think the book would have been anything really special without such amazing character development.  Each one, including minor players, is eloquently and lovingly crafted.  They each have their own voice and the reader can easily feel for each character and understand them on a personal level.  This is one of those instances where I really felt a loss when the book was over because I had come to know the characters so deeply.
  • Katharine is not your normal heroine - In much of YA literature our heroines are pretty predictable.  They follow certain guidelines.  While they may not all be the same type of heroine there are standards they must meet.  Even the shy, quiet, sort of awkward girl has a certain je ne sais quois that pulls at least one special guy into her orbit.  Katharine does not have this.  She is strange, reserved, and altogether off-putting to the other characters for much of the first half of the book.  They really have to get to know her before they trust her, or even like her a little bit.  I found this to be much more realistic and thus, much more satisfying.
  • Mr. Tully's "madness" - We are told at the beginning of the story that Katharine's uncle is mad.  The author doesn't go into why he is mad or what this madness is.  Katharine quickly realizes that Mr. Tully is very different than other men his age.  He is child-like, innocent, rigid in his routine and incredibly sweet.  It becomes clear very early on that Mr. Tully is more like mentally challenged than insane.  This creates a huge dilemma for our main character as she gets to know and love her uncle.  She realizes he needs to be taken care of but she also sees how important his home and his friends are in his life.  Mr. Tully's character is an amazing tool for this story.  He tugs relentlessly on your heartstrings while also providing a quirky sort of comedy.  The reader doesn't laugh at Mr. Tully but with him.  There is always a feeling that he knows more than anyone else and that he sometimes lets them in on the secret.
  • An abundance of heart - With the mix of Mr. Tully, Katharine (an unloved orphan) and an entire town full of residents pulled from work houses, the author had a huge opportunity to craft a heartfelt story of love and overcoming obstacles.  She completely capitalized on that opportunity.

  • Predictable plot points (somewhat) -   Okay, I'm not sure I can really say this is a dislike because this book is supposed to be like a good, old-fashioned Gothic novel.  And it is.  The only problem with this is that it is rather easy to see some of the major twists coming from a mile away.  So instead of being shocked, it's more of a smug "called it" feeling.  Of course smugness brings it's own joys so...
  • Pacing changes from chapter to chapter -  Sometimes the story flies by at an alarming speed while other times it crawls.  The fast-paced chapters are tons of fun, but the slower chapters make the story feel somewhat awkward.  I think this is why it took me a little longer than anticipated to move through the book.
  • Lane's mood swings, dear lord - Lane is, obviously, a loveable character, but his changeable moods gave me a major headache.  One second he is spinning around the ballroom with Katharine or opening up to her and the next he's distrustful of her and wants nothing to do with her.  Make up your mind already, sir!  It's exhausting.

In the end it was the characters that made the book.  While the story was somewhat formulaic, the astounding characters brought it to life with their unique voices and captivating personalities.  There is such love in this story, not just romantic love, but the love of the author for her creations.  This is certainly a story that will stay with me for a long, long time and I highly recommend it!


  1. I keep seeing different reviews about this book. I guess I need to pick up a copy from the library or something to see how I think about it. I do like the sound of the characters, but the mood swings sound annoying. Lovely review!

  2. I'm a huge Jane Eyre fan as well, and have been meaning to read this book for awhile. Your review is very helpful in breaking down the good and bad in the novel - I think I will still read it but not have such high expectations about the JE element. :)

    1. Thanks Charlene! As long as you aren't expecting Bronte you'll be fine ;)

  3. 'Steampunk' genre is starting to crawl onto my reader shelf, so i'm always eager to find more good books! Thanks for the review, sounds like a great read and i'll check it out!

  4. I think I heard about this book awhile ago and it intrigued me, but I then went and forgot about it. I'm glad that you said the characters were interesting, especially the heroine, and that she stood out in the YA crowd. I agree that so many heroines in Ya, ranging from the amazing fighter-chick to the shy bookwarm all do have a certain something that links to them together, I'll have to check this out and see if I agree that she really stands out from the pack.

  5. Great review! I have yet to read any steampunk books but I'm really intrigued with this and can't wait to get my hands on it!