The Osiris Curse is the second book in Paul Crilley’s YA steampunk series TWEED AND NIGHTINGALE. While much of this fast-paced adventure seemed obviously borrowed from works like the Librarian movies, Doctor Who and even China Mieville’s book The Scar, the two protagonists are charming and the story moves along at a good clip. Crilley raises some moral questions that should make early-high-school aged readers think.
Sebastian Tweed and Octavia Nightingale are two young people who have been taken under the wing of Queen Victoria’s mysterious Ministry. Tweed’s father was a con-artist who taught his son the trade, but there was a secret to Sebastian’s identity, and its revelation (in the first book) has left young Tweed questioning his purpose and his existence. Octavia, who works for the London Times as a researcher and cub reporter is searching for her mother, who disappeared over a year ago. Octavia’s mother was held in the Ministry’s secret prison, but a man named Benedict Wilburforce signed for her release. When the great scientist and inventor Nicola Tesla is murdered in the London Museum, Octavia and Tweed begin to investigate, even against the orders of their so-called supervisor, Barrington Chase.
This leads Tweed and Nightingale to an adventure on the luxury airship Albion, ending up in Egypt. They uncover both Wilburforce’s true identity and a terrible plot that threatens all of London.
Tweed is arrogant, but his arrogance covers up a deep insecurity that comes from his origins. Octavia is spunky and skeptical. Sherlock Holmes is referred to quite a bit, but this is because Holmes has a special meaning for Tweed.
The banter between Nightingale and Tweed is modern, but brisk and entertaining, and the action sequences move right along. I like Crilley’s descriptions and I enjoy how he depicts action. The giant robot boxing match at the beginning of the book, and Octavia’s adventures aboard the Albion, are stand-outs. The plot twists are not terribly surprising, but this is YA and I think they are probably about right for that age group. While there is little discussion of the fact that human souls power many of this society’s labor-saving inventions, Tweed and Nightingale are forced to consider the meaning of sacrifice, and who gets to decide what is the greatest good for the greatest number. Crilley does not cheat on these questions.
One thing that did dent my enjoyment was Crilley’s habit of obvious borrowing. It’s one thing to borrow plot elements (a major plot premise for the story comes directly from Doctor Who, the eleventh doctor series), because plot is mutable and fairly general. This problem gets more serious when scenes are copied or lines are quoted. Crilley uses Conan Doyle references correctly and even has Tweed cite them on occasion, but in at least one other place he uses an exact line from a popular TV show, and the final scene looks straight out of the first Noah Wiley movie, The Librarian. With access to so much on the internet, plagiarism is a growing problem in schools, with young people who don’t even understand that copying and pasting an entire passage from the internet without citation is plagiarizing. I would hope that the fiction they are reading does not encourage this idea. I think Crilley needs to be more careful.
With this warning, the book is still good fun, with high energy and two noble characters who struggle to figure out the right thing. The ending resolves the mysteries of this book but paves the way for more grand world-changing adventures.