The Diamond Conspiracy is a crucial new entry in the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series.

Image provided by Amazon/Ace Books

The steampunk adventure series from real-life spouses Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris gives fans a lot of payoff after three books of build-up. Explosives-loving brawler Eliza Braun and proper archivist-turned-field agent Wellington Books take their relationship to a new level as they head home from the prior installment’s American adventure. Back in London, the Ministry Seven (the street urchins under Eliza’s protection who serve as her eyes and ears in the city) accidentally ignite a crisis when they break into the home of a mysterious doctor, who proves to be very dangerous and connected to the highest levels of power.

Queen Victoria, thoroughly compromised by the twisted villain the Maestro, dissolves the Ministry and orders its agents killed. Books and Braun embark on a mad dash through Europe with the Ministry Seven in tow, desperately trying to make a rendezvous with the surviving Ministry agents and Director Basil Sound.

Books faces some ugly facets of his own life in providing a shelter for the now underground Ministry. He, Eliza and Sound undertake a perilous mission to secure the archives of the Ministry, leading to some major revelations about the Ministry and Sound himself that push the series even more firmly into sci-fi territory.

Back in London, the Ministry scrambles to prevent the destruction of London’s East End during Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and save Victoria from herself. A massive firefight, giant robot attacks and a showdown with the twisted Maestro ensue.

After building suspense across the first three installments, Ballantine and Morris pull the trigger on a lot of their mysteries in The Diamond Conspiracy. The answers about the Maestro and the mysterious doctor pulling his strings land with satisfying impact and the true identities of both the doctor and Director Sound will please classic lit fans.

While The Diamond Conspiracy packs in crowd-pleasing fights, explosions and plot twists, it doesn’t neglect its characters. The writers are wise not to drag out the Books/Braun sexual tension, even if their actual relationship gets a tad “romance novel” at points. But in revisiting Books’s troubled upbringing, the character takes on some intriguing new complexities that implicate the series’ other ongoing villains, the mysterious House of Usher. Braun remains an entirely winning heroine, wading into firefights with gusto, while out-thinking most of the people around her.

Director Sound, often an ethereal presence in the earlier novels, gets a welcome spotlight in The Diamond Conspiracy, with significant impact. Disgraced Agent Bruce Campbell (no, really) gets a nice shot at redemption, while Italian assassin Sophia Del Morte is an effective wild card. As usual, famous fictional characters and historical personages enter the action in surprising and entertaining ways. Ballantine and Morris also let their imaginations run wild with the steampunk-inspired mechanical creations and “futuristic Victorian” stylistic flourishes.

The Diamond Conspiracy manages the neat trick of being a satisfying adventure that provides lots of payoff while setting up new mysteries for future installments. Be advised, a working knowledge of the prior three Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences books is essential to following The Diamond Conspiracy. This isn’t a series to be entered late in the game, readers need to start at the beginning and work forward in sequence. But for fans of the genre, it’s a journey worth taking.

Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on May 28, 2015.

Author (Grievous Angels) and pop culture gadabout #amwriting

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