That’s all I could think of when review copies were made available for the sequel to last year’s Phoenix Rising — the first volume chronicling the adventures of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. That book, added to my habitual reading of the Girl Genius webcomic, became my gateway into the world of steampunk — a truly fascinating place, to be sure.
The Janus Affair starts off on a hypertrain, with a woman who vanishes right in front of Eliza Braun. Turns out that the woman is (or was) a suffragist, and knew Eliza. Of course, Braun and her partner, Wellington Thornhill Books, Esquire (it just seems wrong somehow to leave any part of his name out when addressing him), are told to leave the case to the field agent — in this case, Eliza’s countryman Bruce Campbell. We find out that this isn’t the first time a noted suffragist has disappeared, and Eliza’s old friend Kate Sheppard, a noted New Zealand suffragist, is in England to boost morale. And of course … well, you can put two and two together, and see that Eliza feels duty bound to protect Kate, no matter what the Ministry thinks. And of course, Books is in it up to his neck.
But things are not as they seem. As more and more suffragists disappear, the movement threatens to fall into disarray. Eliza is attacked at her home. Books squares off against Douglas Sheppard, who fans of the Ministry’s podcast may remember from Episode 1 (The Evil That Befell Sampson), and in particular his … attachment to Ms. Braun. (That story is also available in one of the Tales from the Archives anthologies that are still available on Amazon for $2.99.) Suffice to say that Mr. Sheppard’s arrival in England is welcomed by Eliza, and not so much by Wellington, and I will leave the rest to your imagination until you read it for yourself. The resolution to this particular plot thread was, I thought, rather satisfying.
In fact, the whole book is rather satisfying. We learn much more about Wellington Thornhill Books, Esq. than we have even in the short stories — enough that we see he’s not the nebbish that we may have thought he was. And we learn more of Agent Campbell in this book — enough to know that he isn’t, in fact, as bad as we had thought before – he is much worse. We see more of the Ministry 7 in action, we see Eliza’s housekeeper in action, we see Wellington kiss a girl (two, actually, and I’m not telling who they are!). There are airship battles, perilous chase scenes, life and death struggles — and there is RUGBY. So what more could you possible want out of a book?
One thing I want to note for those who missed Phoenix Rising — while there are some things in this book that refer back to the previous volume, do NOT feel that you can’t jump into this series right now. Once you do, you will feel compelled to read the first book, then get the three volumes of short stories set in this world, and THEN subscribe to the podcast, but you won’t miss out on anything important if you jump in here.
There is a concern among many people in writing a sequel, and it is addressed in the prologue to this book.
There is always that daunting task after you write a book, people want more. Sure, it’s always good when people want more. It means they like you. (They really, really like you!) So you get started on the sequel … and that’s when it sinks in — you’ve got to clear the bar you’ve set for yourself.
The Janus Affair clears the bar masterfully, and leaves me wondering now — What will they do next? The bar is now even higher.