After the success of her debut The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow, Katherine Woodfine’s second novel – The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth – comes barely six months after its predecessor and picks up the story of Sophie, Lil and co. as life has settled back to normal. It’s not long however before they are approached by a young debutante to find and retrieve the titular jewelled moth, a valuable brooch which has mysteriously gone missing. Meanwhile across the other side of London in Chinatown (which at this point was in the East End, history fans!), Mei Lim and her family find their lives becoming complicated as The Baron starts to squeeze local businesses, and a photograph in the newspaper sheds unexpected light on the family’s own history.
Right from the off this is a more complex novel than the Clockwork Sparrow, introducing more characters and tying together a much bigger plot. Crucially though it retains the elements which made the first book so enjoyable – the strong sense of adventure, the classic combinations of friendship, bravery and cleverness, a great villain in the shape of the shadowy Baron, and a really evocative aesthetic. There’s much less of Sinclair’s this time, which is a shame as it was such a highlight previously, but in its place we get to see so much more of London and its distinct social strata, from the heights of high society in Belgravia to the working class East End. Woodfine has a great ability to fill her settings full of life and depth, maintaining a really strong sense of period and really bringing people and places to life.
If there’s one thing this perhaps lacks it’s the sense of development for the main characters that the Clockwork Sparrow had, introducing each of them and showing them grow as the book progressed. Here there’s a sense that they’re fully formed and much more stable, with only Lil really getting much chance to grow and develop as the story progresses. New characters such as Mei and a clutch of naive debutantes are all nicely introduced, but there’s definitely a little more focus here on plot than last time. Luckily they’re all such good characters that they’re still enjoyable to watch even without much development, but this book does rely on the reader having read the first novel before starting.
Character development aside it’s a really strong follow up novel, with a clever plot that continues to demonstrate Woodfine’s (perhaps growing) ability to tell a gripping tale and expand the world that she’s creating for us. It nicely moves the wider story arc forwards, setting up Sophie and Lil now as detectives for hire and laying the groundwork for more volumes in the series, and most of all it’s just great fun and hugely enjoyable.