The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A young woman, dependent on her aunt for housing and food, is sent off to the wilds of England to declare an uncle (guilty of wasting the family fortune) incompetent. Of course he lives in one of those bizarre houses, filled with odd rooms and dark passages, not to mention angry, silent servants. Katherine is not at all prepared for what she finds: a very childlike uncle with a mind filled with math and engines and designs, employing nearly 900 people to run an estate that creates... it's not quite clear what, but porcelain is among the products. (apparently this is based somewhat on Welbeck Abbey)
Katherine soon realizes that her job is not going to be that easy and grants a 30 day respite before returning to London and her aunt, and the declaration of her uncle's incompetency. Uncle Tully takes to Katherine, calling her "Simon's child" (her father was one of his brothers), allowing her to help wind his clocks and inventions, showing her the workroom and even going on a day's outing. She also starts to become friends with Lane, her uncle's dogsbody, Lucy, her "ladies maid", Ben, a soon-to-be-teacher, and Davy, a mute boy rescued (like virtually everyone on the estate) from the London workhouses. It's not just the oddness of the estate that intrigues her - though rollerskating in the underground ballroom is a highlight - it's also her occasional nighttime nightmarish episodes. She isn't drinking, but for some reason she has these bizarre out-of-body, out-of-mind experiences at night.
The 30 days pass, and Katherine needs to make a decision. However, there's someone on the estate who has decided what that decision should be and will do almost anything to ensure it goes the way they want. It's at this point that the book takes an even more Gothic turn, changing from a vaguely humorous exploration of this strange world towards a more horror novel.
That the majority of the characters are late teens-early twenties is probably why this is being sold as a YA book; however, the Victorian Era setting means that they behave in a far more adult manner than today's teens. I could see this appealing far more to older students rather than the 12-16 crowd.
ARC provided by publisher.