My Rating: 4 stars: Enjoyed - strongly recommend (A-)
The story opens with our wonderful agents, Eliza Braun and Wellington Books, on their way home from Scotland. While on the train, they witness a bizarre incident where a woman is snatched up in a ball of energy and just disappears. This truly is a Peculiar Occurrence, but since Ms. Braun and Mr. Books have been relegated to the Archives (and after making a bit of a mess taking down the House of Usher in the last story, Phoenix Rising), the investigation is left to the bumbling traitor, Bruce Campbell. Of course, since we are talking about Ms. Braun and Mr. Books, and after personal intercession from Eliza’s past, have no fear... they are secretly on the case.
After being blow away by the first book of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, I could not wait to get my hands on The Janus Affair, and once again, I am enamored. The action begins right from the start and doesn’t slow down until we solve the mystery. One does not need to have read the first book in this series to enjoy The Janus Affair, but it is an excellent book and gives marvelous backstory - it is truly worth while.
The first thing I noted and was excited about was the deepening relationship between Eliza and Welly. The two have become comfortable with one another - almost like best friends. But as the books moves forward and we gain perspective from Wellington’s point of view, we realize that he is truly smitten with Eliza. It is sweet and endearing and makes the book that much more enjoyable. Welly is crushing big time on Eliza, but she remains obtuse despite the small signs. A wrench is tossed into the duo’s potential romance when Eliza’s first love, Douglas, comes to visit from their homeland of New Zealand. Not only do a multitude of emotions spring forth in Eliza, but it also serves to remind her that she can never return home to see her family.
Douglas arrives on the scene escorting his mother, Kate Sheppard, who is a suffragist leader from New Zealand. She is in England to garner support for the cause, but instead is fearful for her life as one-by-one the suffragist leaders are being kidnapped in the ball of energy. Kate asks for Eliza to help investigate and stop the abductions. Douglas wants to pick up where he and Eliza left off, and Eliza isn’t certain what to think or do. With their arrival, we discover though suggestions and innuendo that Eliza’s expulsion from her homeland was related to an incident involving Kate.
I did not care for Douglas and felt he was up to something the whole time I read the book. I even wondered if he was directly involved in the abductions (spoiler-free here!). His garish behavior - especially in front of Wellington - along with his constant interfering with Eliza’s work infuriated me, but Eliza handles herself just like she should! Kuddos to the authors for creating a character that I love to hate!
In my note taking, I have flagged so many wonderful passages - most of which are dialogue between Eliza and Wellington. The pair work so well together, despite the circumstances and pressures. Secrets are unraveled and the pair learn to get past it all.
As Eliza and Wellington work behind-the-scenes (with help from the wonderful “Ministry Seven” - a group of vagabond children with many mischievous “skills”), we are interrupted from time-to-time with short “Interludes” which detail a much larger story arc. The nefarious and mysterious Maestro returns to the scene in his continued efforts to bring down the Ministry and its director, Doctor Sound, but what his plans are remains unknown. He has enlisted the help of Peter Lawson, Duke of Sussex, who in turn has an “inside” man in agent Bruce Campbell. Also continuing in her roll as master thief and trouble-maker is the lovely Sophia del Morte. The whole sequence of events gives much to the content of the story without detracting from the plot. I want to know so much more.... what is Doctor Sound up to?
If it seems like there is a lot going on, it’s because there truly is. However, the plot is fairly seamless and the story is so engrossing, that one hardly notices. There were a few times I felt lost, but it never was cause for a re-read.
Overall, The Janus Affair is an excellent story. Although I got a little lost in the words at times, the descriptive settings were exquisite (and for steampunk fans, the contraptions are wonderful!). The madcap schemes and intricate plots are on par with classic whodunit mysteries. The story has amazing humor, non-stop adventure and action, and yes... romance! The addition of the romance sweetened the story without cheapening it. Welly's smitten behavior and the introduction of Douglas added a new dimension to the fabulous series. I am still trying to figure out the overall story arc and look forward to finding out more... hopefully sooner than later.