The Dark Unwinding

318p. Scholastic. 2012. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-545-32786-2; ebook $17.99. ISBN 978-0-545-46964-7. LC 2011044431.
Gr 7–10—Katherine Tulman, 17, faces an impossible decision when she arrives at Stranwyne Keep, in 1852. Her avaricious aunt wishes to seize the profitable estate and orders Katherine's visit so that she may declare her husband insane. Upon her arrival, however, Katherine learns that her eccentric uncle's clockwork factory employs hundreds of individuals plucked from workhouses. Doing her aunt's bidding would undoubtedly send them back into poverty. Katherine receives a warm welcome from her likely autistic uncle and a quirky village girl, Mary Brown. Her uncle's brooding assistant and his aunt treat her with greater suspicion. Katherine wonders if she, like her Uncle Tully, is losing her grip on reality as she struggles with nighttime visions. She must decide between her self-interest and her uncle's well-being even as more sinister characters begin to emerge. Cameron's debut novel reads like a steampunk fantasy. Detailed descriptions of the keep and grounds make for admirable world-building. Secret passages, canals, and Victorian furnishings drip from every page. Tully's clockwork creations seem wondrous, even eerily animated, adding to the story's chilling sense of dread. The villain's identity will be obvious to readers, and Katherine wavers overlong in her deliberations, but teens are not likely to mind as they experience Katherine's romantic and moral dilemma. Hand this to fans of Kenneth Oppel or Libba Bray, and readers who pursue history, invention, or romance. They will find Cameron's scientific fable to their taste.—Caitlin Augusta, Stratford Library Association, CT
This novel, set in 1850s England, is like an intricate piece of clockwork, and at the center of it is Katharine Tulman, “a clock that [has] lost its key.” The penniless Katharine has been sent by her greedy aunt to Stranwyne Keep on a mission to commit her uncle to a lunatic asylum in order to preserve her cousin’s inheritance. But Katharine discovers that her eccentric (and seemingly autistic) uncle Tulman is a mechanical genius, and that the estate has been developed around his inventive talent. Katharine finds a peculiar sense of community among the people who surround her uncle (including his dark, moody, attractive apprentice). However, the novel turns sinister as she starts waking up in strange places and committing acts she doesn’t remember. It soon becomes clear that something bigger is going on at Stranwyne than the effort to protect the future of the estate. Much like Uncle Tulman’s fine machinery, each cog of the plot -- and there are many -- has its own place, making a dense, tight novel written in fluid prose. The strong romantic influence of the Brontës is not hard to notice, but first-novelist Cameron also does justice to the Enlightenment era, with its poverty, poor working conditions, and the threat of war against France, in the assembly of this singularly polished piece. ariel baker-gibbs

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