The Dark Unwinding
Author: Sharon Cameron
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: September 1, 2012
Source: Scholastic for blog tour
Description from Goodreads:
A spine-tingling tale of steampunk and spies, intrigue and heart-racing romance!
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.
First Sentence: "Warm sun and robin's-egg skies were inappropriate conditions for sending one's uncle to a lunatic asylum."
Sometimes I can tell immediately that I'm going to enjoy a book. There's just something in the writing, the tone, the way the words flow in those first sentences that declares the book an utter delight. For me, The Dark Unwinding was one of these books. That first sentence shown above hit the perfect level of amusement and concern for me as a reader. Cameron hooked me with that and sustained my interest consistently all the way through.
Katharine differs greatly from the majority of YA heroines: she's very practical. Though this practicality is not perhaps her natural way of being, she learned to be so in order to get through her life with minimum fuss. After her father's death, left to the guardianship of her Aunt Alice, Katherine serves essentially as a drudge. Aunt Alice reminded me heavily of the Dursleys, utterly devoted to her piggish, stupid son. With all of Alice's affection going to her precious child, she has no interest in Katharine except in what she can do for her, like manage the accounts or run errands.
Another thing that nieces are good for? Sending off to the family estate to ascertain the truth of rumors of insanity, so that one can enjoy the season. Katharine's Uncle Tulman has, so it is said, been wasting the family fortune on the interests of his diseased mind. Clearly, this cannot be allowed to stand or Alice's precious Robert will inherit less. Thus is Katherine sent off to Stranwyne, since family members can report insanity and have the touched party sent to an asylum.
Once at Stranwyne, Katherine discovers that the situation pales in comparison to what she and her Aunt were expecting. Her Uncle Tully does appear to be quite mad, but the scale of his madness surpasses anything anticipated. He spends his time in the production of toys, clockwork creatures. In order to do so, two whole towns have grown up around the estate. Where she expected to find twenty-some perhaps in his employ, she finds hundreds.
Out of practicality, out of a desire to save the estate's fortunes for Robert, who she has some hope of manipulating enough to gain some amount of independence for herself, Katherine plans to depart and report her Uncle immediately. Before she can do so, however, she finds herself charmed by several townsfolk, all of whom work to convince her not to do so, as does the family solicitor, who swears that things are on the mend.
Due to their pleas, Katherine agrees to stay for a full month, ignoring her aunt's letters and getting to know her Uncle. What she discovers is that Stranwyne is a magical place, full of tunnels and secret rooms. I want so badly to explore this estate! Plus, she finds out that Uncle Tully, while certainly a special snowflake, sees the world with childlike eyes, able to see beauty where others do not. At his best, he is utterly sweet, funny and disarming.
Plot-wise, very little came as any sort of a surprise to me. I had the antagonist pegged from the first appearance, as well as the romantic lead. I say this not to denigrate the story, but to stress that the plotting is not where the magic lies. The beauty of The Dark Unwinding is in the characters, who were all brilliantly well-drawn, with perhaps one notable exception. The most charming scene for me, without a doubt, made me wish I knew how to roller skate; there was magic in that scene.
If you're looking for an action-packed, steampunk adventure, The Dark Unwinding is not the book you want. However, if you're looking for a well-written story populated by quirky characters, like Uncle Tully who will be stopping by later today, and brilliant setting, look no further.
Favorite Quote: "I had the most curious feeling then, stronger than my little flight of fancy when we'd arrived at the hill, and the very opposite of my first day in Stranwyne. Instead of moving backward through time, I felt as if I'd moved forward, and to a place that was mine, where all was as it should be."