Warning: contains a spoiler
The second novel of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series, The Janus Affair, opens with the intrepid heroes, Wellington Books and Eliza Braun, witnessing the sudden disappearance of an acquaintance in a blaze of lightening so strong it burns those in the vicinity, including Books. This incident kicks off a chain of events that sends the pair on an investigation full of danger, mystery and of course, steam-punk hijinks.
The pair have been spending the year since their last great adventure in Phoenix Rising, solving long forgotten cases on the sly from the Ministry’s Director, Dr Sound. The investigation starts with the Archivist and his assistant meeting a family friend of Eliza’s, the formidable but horrifically maimed Kate Stafford, who is visiting from New Zealand. The reader is left wondering what happened to Kate for her to have a half brass and clockwork face, and more importantly, why Eliza was implicated and exiled from her homeland.
Kate is in London to take part in a number of suffragist rallies as the movement is slowly gathering steam in England. Seeing her again quite naturally stirs up a lot of fond memories and homesickness for Eliza. Those close to Kate start to disappear in the same frightening flashes of electricity and this spurs Eliza on to try and figure out where they have gone and who is responsible. Of course, she convinces her trusted colleague Welly to assist her with the investigation and to help save her friend.
Kate Shepard however, has not come alone. She is travelling with her son, the handsome adventurer Douglas, who just so happens to be Eliza’s first love. Douglas has intentions of renewing his relationship with Eliza, which sends our ‘bookish’ Mr Books into a tizz of jealously and feelings of inadequacy.
As the investigation plays out Eliza and Books rely on each other plus their trusty friends, Eliza’s part clockwork maid Alice, the Ministry Seven – the band of eight street kids that Eliza has be-friended, and oddly, Diamond Dottie, a renowned London gangster for help. Douglas continues to make a play for Eliza while Books sits on the side lines quietly admiring the fearless, gun toting, dynamite loving Miss Braun, while at the same time continuing to try hide his ‘secret’ past from Eliza.
Tension is created in the ‘interlude’ chapters that focus on the secondary protagonists such as Agent Campbell, Sophia Del La Morte, the Duke of Sussex and the mysterious, part mechanical, Maestro. While we know from the previous novel that the Duke wants to bring down the Ministry, we never find out Maestro’s endgame, but is sure to be revealed as the series continues.
Morris and Ballantine balance the fun of the steampunk setting of late Victoriana, airships and onornithopters with witty dialogue, even from the characters you’re not supposed to like. Perhaps one of the most amusing scenes is near the very end when Eliza and Books are about to save the day. Avert your eyes to miss the spoiler.
“Wellington?” Eliza growled to her partner, not believing a word that came out of the Italian trollop’s mouth.
“Long version or short?” He asked.
She looked at Sophia, and then back to Wellington. “Short!”
“Mad twins, Teleportation device, Plans of a Holy Crusade” He paused, nodded, and then added, “and they have Mrs Sheppard.”
Eliza took a deep breath, filing all that information away. “Ducky.”
Needless to say Eliza and Wellington save the day but there are still mysteries to be solved and the novel ends with the pair about to head out to another adventure in the Americas, which will undoubtedly be the stage for the next book in the series. I can hardly wait. Without giving too much away the book ends with Welly’s secret revealed and him taking the first steps to winning the girl.
I LOVED this book. The only reason why I haven’t given it a 5* is that I am fully expecting the next novel to be a 5 and I don’t want to wear the 5’s out. Morris and Ballantine just get better and better with Eliza and Welly, and I have difficulty thinking of anything I didn’t like about the characters or the world in which these authors set the story. I have read The Janus Affair several times now and I am delighted every time. Describing a novel as delightful might sound trite but there isn’t a better word to describe a book that keeps your interest and makes you laugh each time you read it.
BOOKS IN SERIES ORDER
- Phoenix Rising
- The Janus Affair
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