A Study In Ashes is the last book in what I am calling The Baskerville Trilogy, a series by Emma Jane Holloway about the adventures of Evelina Cooper, who just so happens to be the niece of one Sherlock Holmes. I was pleasantly surprised by the first book, and all but bowled over by the second, A Study in Darkness, and because of that book my expectations were even higher when I read this one. Except for a few small caveats this book stood up to its predecessors. When it comes to plot, Ms. Holloway has a dozen plates, and somehow she keeps them all spinning. Aside from Evelina and Nick, there are the stories of Tobias, Alice and Poppy, and Lord Bancroft, the Steam Lords, The Brothers Holmes and Watson, Moriarity, Imogen and the spirit of her sister, and the return of Buck, and even Dr. Magnus. If all that isn't enough Ms. Holloway also works in an incognito Prince, a prostitute named Hyacinth, and a fascinating glimpse at the Black Kingdom, a creepy Cthuloid landscape that exists in the tunnels beneath England. A little twist that I particularly enjoyed was the way Ms. Holloway worked The Hound of the Baskervilles into her story. Despite all that going on, and there is plenty of it, the centerpiece of the story is still Evelina, and Ms. Holloway does a grand job of keeping her heroine grounded, even as her powers, and her role in the events continues to expand.
While the second book was more about the hypocrisies of the Victorian society this one deals more in what happens when the rules don't just bend but actually break. There are kidnappings, and murder, and terrorist bombings. In the latter half of the book The Steam Lords are bombing London, and in a harrowing scene, Alice and Poppy find themselves struggling through a burning London scarred with violence. Evelina also has to confront her darker impulses, as her powers continue to grow, and the storyline of Tobias evolves into one of noble sadness, and one could almost say tragedy. If only I could just air all the spoilers. In fact, in writing this review I keep finding myself wanting to add this or that little scene, or plot-line, but as this is the last book of the trilogy I have to let Ms. Holloway has the final say.
Now unlike the first two books this one really does demand that you read the previous entries in this series. As much as I liked and admired this book I half to count that as a small strike against it. I also was a little unsatisfied at the battle near the end of the book. It felt a bit too much like I was watching a superhero blockbuster, where a lot of special effects and fireworks are necessary. There is nothing really wrong with the battle in this book, but I didn't find it nearly as interesting as the storylines of the characters that I have come enjoy so much, and in a series that surprised me so much I guess I shouldn't be shocked that Ms. Holloway managed, just at the end, to slip in one more surprise, one that left me a bit gob-smacked. I could ruin my no-spoiler policy and tell you about it, but trust me, you should definitely read this one for yourself.