My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Ada & Mary are back & have their sisters Allegra & Jane in tow as the Wollstonecraft Agency takes on its next case. Mary Somerville, associate of Ada’s mentor Mr. Babbage, asks the two girls to help a young cousin of hers who’s being pressured into a marriage with a less-than-trustworthy suitor. The girls become trusted friends to the cousin, Lizzie, but it becomes clear some larger game is afoot when they encounter an escaped prisoner from an asylum who looks exactly like Lizzie. Secret codes, family betrayals & conspiracies are all obstacles the girls must overcome to aid their newfound friend.
Stratford has a lot of characters & plot to juggle here & he does so admirably. Each of the four girls of the agency get their own small focus–even Jane, who is obsessed with style & society, comes through with a substantive conversation with a key character at the end of the book. But it is clear that this second book is something that is trying to build further intrigue for future connected stories so there are some workman-like parts that don’t quite flow as well as the rest of the story. The plot this time has some roots again in Wilkie Collins with some wild Brontëan touches (which I greatly appreciated). But the action is more sneaky & has lost some of the steampunk luster. Hopefully that will change with Ada getting back to her love of tinkering. Still, a nice addition to the series & clearly leading to something more interesting in future books.