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A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
Inside A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy

Review: A Spark Unseen

A Spark Unseen by Sharon Cameron. Sequel to The Dark Unwinding. Scholastic. 2013. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: The 1850s. England. Katharine Tulman awakes to find someone trying to break into her room. She prevents the kidnapping of her Uncle Tully, but more threats to his safety and peace of mind come. What can she do?

She realizes has to leave the haven of Stranwyne Keep, her first real home. She has to leave England.

Among the property Katharine has inherited is a house in Paris. Paris, which also happens to be the last place that Lane Moreau was known to be.

Is anything ever that easy? Of course not. Katharine is still caught between the politics of two countries, England and France. She’s not sure who she can trust. Can she find Lane and keep those she loves safe?

The Good: As a quick recap of The Dark Unwinding: orphaned Katharine had been raised by her rather mean and nasty aunt. Katharine goes to her Uncle Tully’s at the request of her aunt, to assist in getting Tully committed; instead, Katharine finds a home and acceptance with Tully, his home, his workers, and even finds love with Lane. Tully acts like a child but is a genius inventor, spending most of his time making elaborate toys. (It’s never mentioned, but it sounds like Tully is somewhere on the Autism spectrum.) Both the French and English government wants to misuse Uncle Tully’s inventions to create weapons of war. By the end, it turns out Katharine is the true heir; she can take care of Uncle Tully and escape her aunt; and someone important to her dies in the struggle for Tully’s inventions. (The death so shocked me I still half-believe it didn’t really happen.)

Given those deaths, Katharine’s fears for Uncle Tully and others around her are well founded. It’s also important to note how alone Katharine had been before she met Tully, Lane and the others in her uncle’s household. She is driven to keep those close to her safe, because she isn’t use to having family and friends she loves.

Oh, a quick observation about Uncle Tully’s inventions. I’ve heard these books described as Steam Punk. Given the nature of Uncle Tully’s inventions, I’d say Electric Punk or Mechanical Punk makes more sense. I’m no expert, but they are based on real inventions of the time period just “amped up” a bit.

When Katharine arrives in Paris, there are other English people there, fleeing the cholera in England. In fact, her new next door neighbors are one such English family. The good news? It’s not anyone she knows. The bad news? One of their guests is Mrs. Hardcastle, a good friend of Katharine’s aunt. Yes, the same aunt who made her life so miserable. Mrs. Hardcastle and the neighbors actually adds a bit of humor to this adventure, because she is a bit of a nosy busybody and the whole family has no clue about what is “really” going on.

What is “really” going on? Katharine wants to find Lane, even though she’s been told he is dead. Katharine arrives in Paris with only two allies, her lawyer, Mr. Babcock, and her maid, Mary. She does find someone to help her, another friend of her next door neighbor, Mr. Marchand. While it would sound, at first, that finding a missing man is hardly an adventure, keep in mind that Lane was in Paris as an English spy, working against Napoleon III. Remember how the English government hasn’t been exactly nice to Katharine and her uncle. Whether it’s Katharine discovering the truth of Lane’s death, or Katharine finding Lane alive, Katharine is not safe.

What else to add? There’s a few threads and a bunch of characters going on, with the politics and spying, and Katharine never being quite sure who to trust yet having to work with people to find Lane. The house in Paris has a housekeeper, and another bit of fun (for me) and stress (for Katharine) is that the housekeeper and her family refuse to leave the house, no matter what Katharine says. Is the housekeeper a real threat, or just an annoying woman who refuses to listen to someone as young as Katharine? And, of course, there is also all the history, both “big” (we meet Napoleon III and learn a bit more about him!) and “small” (what was a Channel crossing like in the 1850s?)

I loved  how it all comes together at the end, almost like a puzzle box being put together to form one whole. Even what appears to be coincidence is not, it’s just a bigger picture than Katharine had realized.

Other reviews: Sarcasm and Lemons; Library of a Book Witch; Through the Looking Glass (this has some fun spoilers that are best read after reading A Spark Unseen).



About Elizabeth Burns

Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is