LitStack Review: The Janus Affair: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris

 

The Janus Affair: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel
Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris
Harper Voyager
ISBN-10: 006204978X

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Evildoers beware! Retribution is at hand, thanks to Britain’s best-kept secret agents!!

Certainly no strangers to peculiar occurrences, agents Wellington Books and Eliza Braun are nonetheless stunned to observe a fellow passenger aboard Britain’s latest hypersteam train suddenly vanish in a dazzling bolt of lightning. They soon discover this is not the only such disappearance . . . with each case going inexplicably unexamined by the Crown.

The fate of England is once again in the hands of an ingenious archivist paired with a beautiful, fearless lady of adventure. And though their foe be fiendishly clever, so then is Mr. Books . . . and Miss Braun still has a number of useful and unusual devices hidden beneath her petticoats.

In five short days those clamoring for the sequel to Morris and Ballantine’s first Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences novel, Phoenix Rising, will have their year long wait finally abated. The Janus Affair continues where its predecessor left off, with agents Wellington Books and Eliza Braun in the thick of yet another mystery–a mystery they don’t exactly have permission to unravel.

The pair serve Queen and country through the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences and in Phoenix Rising, when we met Braun, she was demoted for her refusal to “do in” Books as she was ordered. She was sent to the archives, becoming a junior archivist drone and, sadly, under the direction of the passive and perpetually proper Books. Not satisfied with being taken off of active duty, Braun teams up with Books to solve cold cases under the radar of their supervisor, Dr. Sound, or other Ministry agents.

Following Phoenix Rising, Morris and Ballantine cunningly released short stories in the Peculiar Occurrences universe  in the form of  Tales from the Archives: the Official Anthology of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences podcast  that helped to fill in the gaps via missing years and further details on both background and main characters.

The Janus Affair opens with Books and Braun witnessing the remarkable and beautifully steampunk abduction of one of Bruan’s suffragette friends. She is then unceremoniously told by Sound that due to her demotion and her relationship to the victim, she is in no way allowed to investigate the crime. Well, okay then, go right ahead and raise that red flag at the ginger bull, sir.  Of course, the pair continue on under the nose of Ministry officials, avoiding would-be assassins and encountering Braun’s former, (and criminally attractive), fiance, Douglas Sheppard.

Braun and Books’ relationship is complicated, perhaps, heightened when Sheppard resurfaces and certainly when they are forced to rely on one another when more suffragettes are taken and doubt and cooperation in the movement isn’t so forthcoming.

It’s a difficult undertaking for the pair, having to sort out the big (and well disguised) whodunit and the many and varied obstacles in their way, but Morris and Ballantine manage to give their readers a satisfying read wrapped up in a quintessential, elegant steampunk bow. The visuals are not cliched, not overdone yet maintain the heart and spirit of Phoenix Rising and the essence of a vivid steampunk Victorian universe.

But what I found to be the most dynamic aspect of the novel (aside from a few literal laugh out loud moments…”humor” should include a detailed tintype of the writers’ faces in the dictionary), is the effortless manner in which these two writers wove together such a seamless story. There are little, if any, differentiations between their two individual voices and I felt The Janus Affair was tailored expertly and tightly woven, not unlike an elegant leather corset with a strong foundation and bright bits and bobs of clockwork brilliance that leaves the reader wrapped securely and held delighted beneath each thread.

Highly, highly recommended.

 

 

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