I received a galley of The Dark Unwinding quite a while ago and finally decided to read it this month. I’m not really sure why it took me so long to get around to, but alas it did, and I will forever regret not uncovering its particular brand of awesome sooner. It’s a sort of gothic or gaslight novel. Though I’ve heard it described as steampunk before, I can’t really categorize it as such. There is one small element of extremely light steampunk, but really it’s not a steampunk novel. This, however, did not annoy or frustrate me in anyway. In fact, it was refreshing that Cameron did not attempt to force this delightfully enchanting story to be something that it was not.
Katherine Tullman is our truly gothic heroine. Her terrible Aunt Alice has sent her on a mission to have her eccentric uncle committed so that she can seize his estate for herself. Since she is Katherine’s guardian and only source of income, she is placed in an impossibly bleak situation. She is forced to choose between her own survival—meager though it is—and that of hundreds of people employed by her uncle’s estate. I absolutely adore her strength and growth as a character, as well as her conflict over what she should do. She is placed in situation after situation where she must make decisions that will greatly affect her future happiness, and her struggle feels so genuine and real. There are times where she makes horrible decisions and must learn and grow from the consequences.
Uncle Tully. I loved Uncle Tully. Since the time period of The Dark Unwinding is Victorian England, there are no names for things like Autism or mental retardation or Downs Syndrome or any of these other conditions that we have today. There was no understanding or attempts to give people with such situations a happy life. These individuals were simply committed to an asylum to keep them out of the public eye and from being a burden to their “normal” family members. If Uncle Tully had been placed in a modern era setting he probably would have been diagnosed with autism. That seems to be the most likely explanation of his eccentric behaviors and social issues as well as his genius. Honestly, the way the society in this novel looks at him is so unsettling and, frankly, disgusting that the reader cannot help but love him and want to see him escape Aunt Alice’s clutches. =)
Lane Moreau is Uncle Tully’s assistant and a member of the community employed by the estate. He is utterly devoted to Uncle Tully and works incredibly hard to convince Katherine to help save Uncle Tully. He is not one to back down from a challenge and is willing to call Katherine out if that’s what is necessary. He’s practical and straightforward. Yet he’s also sweet and kind and completely adorable at times and definitely not above a little fun.
Ben Aldridge is a sort of apprentice to Uncle Tully. He is incredibly interested in figuring out Uncle Tully’s ingenious toys. He’s obviously a very intelligent individual with a good station in life, certainly more secure than Katherine’s. To make him even more appealing, he’s obviously interested in Katherine, something Katherine’s never experienced before since Aunt Alice has made it clear that she is undesirable and has done everything she can to keep Katherine out of the public eye. Ben is a supremely interesting character and one that makes you see the troublesome spot in which a girl like Katherine could find herself trapped in the late 1800’s.
Davy. Oh this sweet child won my heart so completely. I adored him. He is so…endearing and capable and enchanting.
The secondary characters were wonderfully done as well, filling out the plot with rich personalities like Mrs. Jenkins, the keeper of the “big house” and Lane’s Aunt Bit; or Mary Brown, Katherine’s self-appointed lady’s maid; or Mr. Babcock, the solicitor of the Tullman estate; or various other townspeople. There are no insignificant roles in this book. Every person is vital and needed for the richness of its story.
I loved the romance in this novel. It is a smoldering buildup of tension throughout the entire novel, not a sudden onslaught of instalove and lust that we’ve grown so accustomed to in so many YA novels. Everything builds slowly to a dramatic conclusion that leaves the reader wanting more…IMMEDIATELY! I also loved that there is really not a love triangle. There is a triangle…but well…I don’t want to spoil things for you. 😉
The pacing is beautiful. At first I thought it was a bit slow at the beginning; however, as I continued reading I realized, it’s not that the plot was dragging so much as sauntering. The plot of this book ends up being much bigger and more complex than I originally expected. The characters and situations take a very different turn than I thought they would upon first glance leading to a conclusion that was simply breathtaking. The novel is resolved and the plot neatly tied up for the time being, yet there is so much more, so many more unknowns and questions to be answered. It’s gorgeous.
A deliciously gothic, gaslight tale with a little bit of bit of steampunk thrown in for good measure, The Dark Unwinding is a thoroughly enchanting read.