The Janus Affair
There’s good news, and there’s so-so news. The good news is that The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences is a rollicking, kick-ass, funtastic series from a Kiwi and American duo, and I look forward to more adventures featuring Agents Books and Braun. The so-so news is that the second book, while a good read, suffers a wee bit from the sophomore slump. And definitely pick it up only if you’ve read the first.
Eliza Braun is really hating her new position. After the various kerfuffles in the last book, the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences has demoted her to Wellington Books’ archival assistant, and man, is the work ever dull. Welly can see her chafing at the bits, but a part of him is very glad to have her there. Sure, their last adventures in steampunk Victorian England were interesting – but he likes tinkering with machinery, and the archives are peaceful, quiet, and non-violent.
All of this is disrupted when they journey down from Scotland, and see a woman disappear in front of their eyes. Eliza recognizes her as a member of the growing suffragette movement – a movement she is familiar with not only because of her own current participation, but also because of her personal ties in New Zealand to the suffrage founder Kate Sheppard, also known as the mother of Eliza’s first love Douglas.
”No, we are not investigating”. “Yes Welly, we are.” “We can’t.” “We have to.” “No.” “Yes.” That’s more or less how it goes as Eliza decides to find out what’s going on, and Welly (in the name of prudence) tries to convince her not to. But it becomes clear that something very fishy is going on, as more suffragettes disappear, Eliza uncovers a slew of related buried cases at the Ministry, Douglas pops up, and an Italian assassin bats her black lashes at Welly.
I had fun with The Janus Affair. The storytelling is cracking and the world-building layered. In some ways the series reminds me of M. K. Hobson’s Native Star series, with their comfortable balance between setting immersion, playful (and slightly cheeky) revisioned history, plot twists, and character progression. Where Ms. Hobson’s books are set in 1870s magic-infested America, the MoPO series is set in the 1890s, primarily in England, and definitely have a steampunk bent, with machinery and robots aplenty.
The pace falls off in the middle as the plots pile up and my attention starts to wander. You get back into it quickly enough, though, and I was very intrigued by some of the secondary characters, particularly Director Sound (head of the MoPO). Despite this, I’m definitely looking forward to the third book, as Welly and Eliza’s adventures take them across the ocean, and maybe (maybe?) with a bit of a romance. This series is definitely an excellent antidote to Regency and vampire ennui.