The Diamond Conspiracy is the fourth instalment of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences novels by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris and is a direct sequel to the previous book, Dawn’s Early Light. A few adjustments to the various meters in this latest book. A bit less on the wacky gadget front, a bit more on the romance novel front, and a very excellent steady-on in the plot department. At least, inasmuch as anything can be said to be steady with as many twists, turns, and escapades that Books and Braun get on with. Just as enjoyable as all the previous books, the Ministry series is full of panache and style.
For years, the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences has enjoyed the favor of Her Majesty the Queen. But even the oldest loyalties can turn in a moment…
Having narrowly escaped the electrifying machinations of Thomas Edison, Books and Braun are looking forward to a relaxing and possibly romantic voyage home. But when Braun’s emergency signal goes off, all thoughts of recreation vanish. Braun’s street-wise team of child informants, the Ministry Seven, is in grave peril, and Books and Braun must return to England immediately.
But when the intrepid agents finally arrive in London, the situation is even more dire than they imagined. The Ministry has been disavowed, and the Department of Imperial Inconveniences has been called in to decommission its agents in a most deadly fashion. The plan reeks of the Maestro’s dastardly scheming. Only, this time, he has a dangerous new ally—a duplicitous doctor whose pernicious poisons have infected the highest levels of society, reaching even the Queen herself…
Say one thing for the British Government in this alternate steampunk England, they certainly know how to name a clandestine organization in the least clandestine way possible. So now in addition to the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences we have the Department of Imperial Inconveniences. I feel like the biggest inconvenience would be getting the business cards to cram all the text in. The Diamond Conspiracy is very true to form for this series. Having just finished their last zany madcap mission, Books and Braun are going to relax, except no wait, it’s time to be hurled willy nilly into another zany madcap mission. Our dynamic duo certainly lead interesting lives.
One thing I really did enjoy about this book was that Books got some really serious character development. So much has ended up revealed about him in very sudden ways that tend to go unremarked until much later, and the whole stiff-upper-lip thing is so much in evidence that it still felt like we were just piling up unanswered questions instead of learning about him. Not so much a concern now. While we do still get some of Ballantine and Morris’ trademark plot twists and sudden stark revelations, we also got to spend a little more time than usual inside Books’ head, and it makes him a much deeper and more interesting character for it.
Braun doesn’t get neglected either, but her development is more by way of forward-looking rather than inward-looking change. I still enjoy the degree to which she remains steadfastly unconcerned with societal expectations, and the developing romance between her and Books continues apace in a way that doesn’t feel too much like every other set of partners who become partners, so that’s a win as well. Also, the interactions between her and recurring villainess Sophia del Morte manage to pass the Bechdel Test, and give both characters a chance to develop from outside the forced confines of their employers and partners. Altogether positive developments across the board.
Another thing The Diamond Conspiracy brought us was a veritable roll-call of Ministry agents. All kinds of people either barely mentioned, or never before seen put in appearances as the agents of the Ministry deal with the predations of the Department. I wonder if this was just a plot element that made sense given the circumstances, or whether this might presage either a greater involvement in the story by agents besides Books and Braun, or whether we might start to see other Ministry novels centered around other agents. I hope for the latter, as a few of them seemed pretty interesting and I wish I could have spent a little more time following them around instead of having them operate in the background of the main plot.
I’m not sure how I feel about the largest of the world developments, which I don’t want to spoil here but which I can say centers around Dr Sound, the head of the Ministry. It’s a very dangerous and tricky thing to work into a world, even one as crazy-go-nuts as this one. It ends up becoming something that either gets misused, or disused, and I’d hate to see for that to happen, when they’ve done such a good job working in all of the other less ‘realistic’ elements to the story. I guess I’ll have to see in the next book whether anything comes of it.
The Ministry series continues to be a fantastic adventure which makes for a quick, light and enjoyable read. Ballantine and Morris have really captured the feel of the old adventure dramas of the past and brought in something new and just really fun as well. As long as they keep writing them, I’ll keep reading them. If this sounds like what you’re looking for, look no further.