The Dark Unwinding

Written by Sharon Cameron
Review by Richard Bourgeois

Ever since her father died at sea, Katherine Tulman has known her place in the world. She acts as account-keeper for her coldly cruel Aunt Alice, managing a family fortune to which she has no claim – it’s all destined for her sweets-addicted cousin, on whose dubious generosity Katherine will depend for the rest of her days. When Aunt Alice receives word that Katherine’s Uncle Tully has gone mad and is squandering the estate, she sends her seventeen-year-old accountant to have him committed. But Uncle Tully is only mad in the most conventional sense; his childlike genius has created a refuge from the workhouses for hundreds of people, a clockwork paradise of greater value than any account-book can record.

Cameron builds a wonderfully tight, thrilling story on the classic Victorian framework of stolen birthrights and stiff propriety. Katherine is a pleasantly formidable heroine, pointed in her speech but seldom cutting. One has no difficulty believing that this exceptional young woman is up to the many challenges before her. The steampunk elements of Uncle Tully’s world are exceptionally well done, presented perfectly in Katherine’s voice but with enough clues for a modern technical person to sort out exactly what they are. (This engineer particularly enjoyed the description of insoluble nitrocellulose.) Similarly the mysterious “unwinding” of Katherine’s mental state is at once creepy and credible, pulling the reader right along with her on a journey to madness and back again. Highly recommended.