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A compelling exploration of a different world

Nyssa Glass and the House of Mirrors - H. L. Burke

I read Nyssa Glass and the House of Mirrors, by H.L. Burke, on the recommendation of a friend and am very glad to have done so: I really enjoyed this story.

The plot follows a young lady - Nyssa, of course - through a series of exploits as she tries to extricate herself from being unjustly accused of murder. Her background is dubious enough to make the accusation likely to be believed, but she is determined to deserve the trust of her employer Mr Calloway, and her former teachers at Miss Pratchett's School for Mechanically Minded Maids. This determination keeps her going through puzzles, dangers, and difficulties.


On the surface, her basic task seems clear - find a way into a seemingly abandoned house and retrieve a missing item. But inevitably things are not so simple. The house turns out to be well-defended, although the protective systems are overdue for servicing and overhaul, and it is not so empty as it seems at first sight...


The action takes place almost entirely within a single day - barring some necessary flashbacks and a brief "what followed" section - but it is easy to forget the shortness of the timespan as you are carried along with the action. You reach the end of the book feeling that you have come to learn a great deal about her, owing to the intensity of her experiences.


A recurring theme of the book is the question of who Nyssa can rely on. Sometimes she makes the wrong decision, and finds herself having to work out how to undo the difficulties resulting from this. Her life experiences have not disposed her to be particularly trusting, and suspicion of motives easily rises to the surface of her thoughts. But the ongoing need to work out who is dependable and who is fickle is a major thread of the book, and one which several of the characters grapple with. The answers to these questions shift multiple times through the book as various facts and snippets of background become clear.


The author's chosen style is most like Steampunk, though with her own personal spin on the conventions of that genre which worked well for me. The level of scientific and technological accomplishment was a perfect complement to Nyssa's skills and abilities. Both feel entirely credible and I was fully immersed in the tale. I particularly liked the approach towards mechanical intelligence was handled - a very different route to our society's, but it is a persuasive and compelling alternative. There is a point where curious enquiry of possibilities gives way to the horrified realisation of reality, and this is handled particularly well.


House of Mirrors is a YA novel and the personal interactions reflect this. However, this should not deter anyone, and there is ample interest and character depth to satisfy an adult reader. The cast of characters is comparatively small, and the end of the book strongly suggests that other books set in this world will follow in the future. I certainly hope so, and will be looking out for them.


(This review was originally prepared for The Review blog, http://thereview2014.blogspot.co.uk/)