THE ADVENTURE OF THE WOLLASTON RITUAL
Prequel to A Study in Silks
THE STRANGE AND ALARMING COURTSHIP OF MISS IMOGEN ROTH
Prequel to A Study in Darkness
THE STEAMSPINNER MUTINY
Prequel to A Study in Ashes
In a Victorian era ruled by a council of ruthless steam barons, mechanical power is the real monarch and sorcery the demon enemy of the Empire. Nevertheless, the most coveted weapon is magic that can run machines—something Evelina Cooper has secretly mastered. But rather than making her fortune, her special talents could mean death or an eternity as a guest at Her Majesty’s secret laboratories. What’s a polite young lady to do but mind her manners and pray she’s never found out? But first there’s murder and mayhem to deal with.
Praise for The Baskerville Affair
“As Sherlock Holmes’s niece, investigating murder while navigating the complicated shoals of Society—and romance—in an alternate Victorian England, Evelina Cooper is a charming addition to the canon.”—Jacqueline Carey, New York Times bestselling author of the Kushiel’s Legacy series
“This book has just about everything: magic, machines, mystery, mayhem, and all the danger one expects when people’s loves and fears collide. I can’t wait to return to the world of Evelina Cooper!”—Kevin Hearne, New York Times bestselling author of The Iron Druid Chronicles, on A Study in Silks
“Holloway stuffs her adventure with an abundance of characters and ideas and fills her heroine with talents and graces, all within a fun, brisk narrative.”—Publishers Weekly, on A Study in Silks
“Riveting . . . The villains and scoundrels continue to be wonderfully complex, and heroine Evelina only grows more interesting as she explores the fearsome and fascinating darker side of her Blood magic.”—RT Book Reviews, on A Study in Darkness
“An exciting trilogy . . . what a stunning conclusion to such a phenomenal series!”—Fresh Fiction, on A Study in Ashes
About the Author
An award-winning author of both historical and urban-fantasy romance, Holloway has an honors degree in English literature. Writing as Sharon Ashwood, she won the RITA Award for paranormal romance for the third book of her Dark Forgotten series. She lives in the Pacific Northwest and is owned by the Demon Lord of Kitty Badness.
Read an Excerpt
The Adventure of the Wollaston Ritual
A hole gaped in the graveyard, leaking the gut-churning smell of one freshly—but not too freshly—dead. Just a few weeks ago, the Reverend Dr. Amory Larch, Rector of Wollaston, had performed the burial service himself for the mourners shivering in the November drizzle.
Now the grave was an expletive of mud and roots. Bits of coffin wood lay scattered among the remains of the wilted flowers the bereaved had left. Something had exploded from inside the earth.
That was never a good sign. Nor was the fact that the shimmering, predawn gloom was utterly still. Even the usual chorus of waking birds was silent as … well, as the tomb.
It hadn’t been that way a quarter hour ago. In his comfortable house on the other side of the churchyard, where he had a good cellar and a cozy library and a workshop for the manufacture of clockwork toys—every child of the parish got one as a birthday present sooner or later—Larch had awakened to what sounded like the boom of a howitzer. He’d scrambled out of bed in a panic, sure Bonaparte was back from the dead. If he’d taken the time to wake up first, he would have realized that Old Boney was long gone, right along with Larch’s youth.
Now he stood in the graveyard in his nightshirt and carpet slippers, staring into the hole. Behind him, Wollaston Church overlooked the scene, its modest spire barely visible against the predawn sky.
The hole had been the final resting place of a well-bred scapegrace named Tom Cannon, aged three and twenty, who had bashed in his head while jumping his horse. He’d been on the way home in the early hours from the Tub and Tinker, stinking of brandy and with his clothes half buttoned. No question about how he’d spent the night. His taste ran to heiresses, but women of all stripes had fallen for his blue eyes and broad shoulders. An interesting scrap of gossip said he’d lost his heart to some young miss, but Larch wasn’t sure Tom had possessed one to give away.
Yet whoever Tom Cannon had been, he was no more—a sad but everyday bit of mortality. The one comfort to the women of Wollaston was that—due to the fact his fall had only affected the posterior of his skull—he’d made as good-looking a corpse as he had a man.
But now he was missing. Larch gave an un-reverendlike curse under his breath and pulled the worn robe he’d grabbed just a bit tighter. Grave robbing wasn’t as common as it used to be, since cadavers had become easier for the medical schools to obtain, but Larch still remembered the bad old days when it had been prudent to put an iron grill over the graves until the bodies were properly rotted. Back then, the coffins were smashed at the top and the body pulled out with a rope—all very efficient and reasonably tidy. This was not.
The only explanations Larch’s imagination could devise chilled him worse than the crawling damp of the graveyard’s silent dawn. So did the three pigeons just to the left, their necks twisted at impossible angles, feet together and wings outspread. The carefully arranged corpses made an obscene, pale flower. Whatever had happened here, it had been deliberate.
He shifted, the dewy grass tickling his bare ankles. The air seemed to be getting thicker, the musty smell congealing unpleasantly around him. Larch looked from left to right, not sure what had suddenly grabbed his attention. Nothing was there. Still, an animal fear swept through his bowels, jamming a fist of terror all the way up to his throat. He tried to move, to step away from the grave, but his spine had gone tight as an iron rod. He shuffled backward, stumbling over his slippers.
He could swear he heard something. Or maybe he had felt it, like an invisible hand on his shoulder. Whatever it was brought all the atavistic terror of the cave dweller cowering before his fire, feeding it so that the shadows wouldn’t feed on him. His brain blanked, sure whatever was behind him was very, very hungry.
Larch bolted for the church, leaving his slippers behind.
Three days later
The stately stone edifice of the Wollaston Academy for Young Ladies stood pale against frost-tipped Devon hills; veils of cloud streaked the blue winter sky. At first glance the setting was idyllic—a timeless scene of tradition and gentility—unless one looked to the southwest. There, slashes of bare earth marked where Keating Utility was laying underground pipes all through the Wollaston neighborhood, ready to pump in the steam-driven revolution transmogrifying the rest of the Empire. The trenches forked and divided like nerves and veins, as if the quiet village were being absorbed into an ever-expanding body. The school, like the smallest toe, was at the very end of the line of progress.
And oblivious to it. For the majority of the academy’s students, change was something that happened to one’s wardrobe when the fashion papers arrived from Paris. Indeed, a handful of warmly wrapped young ladies were taking the air, dotting the school’s front lawn like decorative personifications of idleness, sloth, and vanity. Some were practicing carols, their voices weaving with angelic sweetness.
Classes were done, Christmas was a whisper away, and all that kept them at Wollaston was a final dance on Saturday night. Most of the senior girls would travel to London after the holidays to prepare for their first Season on the marriage mart.
Evelina Cooper, on the other hand, sat on a bench where the sun warmed a sheltered nook in the academy’s stone wall. It was quiet there, free from the chatter of the other girls. As usual, she read a book. While passing muster in the ornamental arts, Evelina excelled in science and mathematics. And as a young gentlewoman with an uncertain future, she meant to leave school with every corner of her brain filled to capacity.
Without warning, the peaceful tableau shattered. A servant girl scrambled up the rise toward the academy, her sturdy boots churning as if a wolf were snapping at her heels.
“Where is Mrs. Roberts?” she cried, her breath misting in the chill air. “I must see Headmistress Roberts! Please, please!”
Evelina started as her thoughts jerked from a review of Fresnel’s classic theories on luminiferous aether.
“Mrs. Roberts, please!”
Evelina blinked rapidly, pulling the world around her back into focus. The washed-out blue of the servant’s cotton skirts were pallid against the lawn—a sketch in ink-and-wash amid a landscape of oils.
“I need Mrs. Roberts!”
The frantic tone of the servant’s voice tightened the muscles along the back of Evelina’s neck. She stood, abandoning her sunny bench and sliding Fresnel back into the pocket of her coat.
“Miss—misses—please, I must find the headmistress at once! The Reverend Dr. Larch said so!” The young girl had reached the path to the school steps and was now scampering up the walkway, picking up speed like an engine at full steam. Evelina was closest, and the girl began moving in her direction.
At the mention of Dr. Larch’s name, Evelina remembered her. The servant worked at the rectory. “Mary, whatever is the matter?”
“I need Mrs. Roberts, miss, please!”
“Why?” Evelina hurried forward to meet her. Servants never addressed their betters like this. If they were caught in the hallways, they were to turn their faces to the walls until the gentry passed. From what she could recall, Mary was a little slow witted, but knew her place. Her need had to be monumental.
“I’ve got to bring her this, Miss Cooper!” Mary stumbled to a stop, panting like a winded horse.
The girl carried a huge bundle wrapped in white cloth. String trailed from its ends, as if the knots had come undone during the cross-country jog. Mary was a big lass, but the thing looked enormous in her arms. And it was heavy, by the way the girl’s arms trembled. As Evelina approached, she noticed something soaking through the cloth and filling the air with a noxious stink. The other young ladies who had surged forward, alight with curiosity, were now fading backward, fluttering perfumed handkerchiefs toward their noses.
“Please, miss,” the girl gasped, addressing them all at once. “I need the headmistress. Dr. Larch said she’d stop calling him an addled old fool when she saw this. He said this is proof!”
Evelina stopped, wondering what on earth could smell so ghastly. “Pardon me?”
The desperate maid teared up, obviously overcome with frustration. “The headmistress says he’s an addled old superstitious fool fit for the public stocks, but now she has to believe him!”
The insult did sound like Mrs. Roberts, especially when she thought no one was listening. Still, Evelina hesitated. The bundle stunk like a rotten ham, and there was no way it was going inside the school—not while Evelina slept there.
“What is in that parcel?” she asked.
“It’s ever so heavy, but I couldn’t tell you, miss. It’s not my job to know.”
Evelina glanced at the confused faces of her classmates. No one said a word, as if afraid that would make them responsible for the situation. There was only the shuffling of dainty boots on the paving stones as they shifted irritably, their cheeks and noses pink with the cold.