Friday, 14 October 2016

The Chess Queen Enigma


Book Title: The Chess Queen Enigma
Author: Colleen Gleason
Series: Stoker & Holmes #3
Date Started: October 3rd 2016
Date Completed: October 7th 2016
Genres: Mystery, Historical, Thriller, Adventure, Romance
Quality Rating: Two Stars
Enjoyment Rating: Three Star
Final Rating: Three stars

I started this series a while ago and was very pleasantly surprised at how much entertainment I got out of it. Don't get me wrong, if you're going in wanting a proper storyline and solid logic and characters, you're going to get very easily annoyed - but what these books do give you is the opportunity to just suspend the desire for reason and just enjoy some nonsense. That's been the strength of the series, and my problem with The Chess Queen Enigma was Gleason tried to go further into the realms of a full-functioning mystery when the foundations she'd built were completely flimsy. I don't come to these books for a quality literary story: I come for the fun, and that was what needed to be brought back.

A lot of the time, if I can't bear the writing I can't bear the book. Most novels I don't end up finishing are ones where the style of writing is constantly bringing me out of the story and frustrating me to the point where I don't want to read anymore. And while this series has some truly terrible writing and narrative points - there are times when the action or characters are just so silly and ridiculous that I don't understand how it ever seemed like a good idea to let it through to the final edit - there's a kind of childishness running through the whole series that actually does make it a little easier to accept how bad it is at points. Maybe I'm being a little harsh, but to give credit where it's due, the normal balance between the childish writing, but then the equally innocent and adventurous action almost overrides each other to where you can just enjoy the book. Once again, I would say this wasn't as consistent as in The Chess Queen Enigma as with the other books, but I was still able to let a lot of silly things go because I was enjoying myself.

This book tries to be clever and missed out the fun in doing so. The Stoker and Holmes series isn't a sophisticated or clever series and that's fine; its strength is in that it's so much fun, but it's so important not to lose that. What I noticed happening a bit more in The Chess Queen Enigma was that where we might have previously expected an action scene or a little argument between characters, we were instead given an internal monologue of one of the characters trying to work something complicated out. With a character like Mina Holmes we get that a lot anyway, but it's a lot more engaging when it's said out loud and where we get other people reacting. This book felt a little like Mina and Evaline were going about their own business, going to a place where something briefly happened, then parting ways again. They didn't feel like the team they've been built up to be and so any consequential action was then just a bit dry because of that.
I also wasn't too happy about the conclusion to this sequel. While this series is good at making sure each book has its own plot that weaves into the overarching story, the point of this book felt, well, pointless. In terms of moving the characters forward in their journey as a whole, I can't really see anything that will have a long-lasting effect, and as a stand-alone book it was a bit flat. But on top of that, we have certain aspects of the series that clearly needed to be solved quickly, and so Gleason cheats us a developed solution and just magics the problems away. Obviously, there are plans in place for future books, but part of me feels that since so little happened in this novel - and apparently there was a very big problem to take care of before the next book - why did we not focus on exploring that one issue that didn't appear until the last few pages?

The Chess Queen Enigma loses the characters that we know and love a little bit. They're still there, and still falling into their own pre-made stereotypes, but I noticed that we didn't really get to see them interacting with each other that much. The strength when you have character-driven stories is getting to see them play off each other, and there was definitely a lack of that here; I wanted more of Mina and Grayling arguing, Mina and Evaline grudgingly accepting they're a good team, Pix and Evaline constantly trying to be one step ahead of the other. When the action was lacking, and the writing was trying to become more sophisticated and less pure fun, the thing that could've pulled everything back was the characters but we just weren't given enough opportunities for them to do that.

This book didn't have the thrill factor and entertainment that the previous two had; it was probably the weakest instalment of the series so far. Nevertheless, I still want to read the rest of the series. It's a nice break from what I usually read, and when it's fun it's really fun. I just hope that the series goes back to its original balance of entertainment next to the utterly ridiculous storylines.

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