Twelve Minutes to Midnight by Christopher Edge was, overall, somewhat of a disappointment, but it qualifies pretty well as a Girls Underground story. Theoretically, I like the setting (1899 England) and the themes (madness, poison, mystery), but the execution was pretty hackneyed. A rather formulaic depiction of the late Victorian era (all gaslights and foggy streets and a good dose of famous authors constantly name-dropped), and when the mystery starts getting kind of weird it also becomes incomprehensible, with mystical tenets appearing out of nowhere which the protagonist somehow grasps and works with, without any prior understanding.
Penelope (Penny), 13, is an orphan who has inherited a periodical called the Penny Dreadful, which she has secretly been writing horror stories for, making it incredibly successful. She hires a man named Monty to pretend to be the famous author of her stories (since no one would accept a child in that role), and he is called on by the mental hospital Bedlam to solve the mystery of why, at 12 minutes to midnight each night, all the lunatics begin writing furiously on any available surface. Their writings are a mystery to the characters, but obvious to us – they are visions of the future. Monty is useless, so Penny picks up the case, with help from her friend Alfie. They follow an orderly from Bedlam and find out that somehow it comes back to a mysterious widow who also happens to be an expert on spiders. This adversary, Lady Cambridge, captures Penny and tries to force-feed her spider venom in order to induce madness and reveal more visions of the future (which is how all the lunatics are doing it). But Penny escapes, the Lady’s plot is revealed, and she is supposedly killed in a fire. Of course, that’s not the end, because the Lady is still trying to gain control over the world by knowledge of the future, and she plans an elaborate mind-control attack on all of London via venom-induced stories written by famous authors (it’s really quite convoluted and hard to explain). Penelope must take the venom voluntarily and go into the same realm of madness in order to save everyone before time runs out at the dawn of the new century. She almost forgets herself, but manages to rally and save the day, and survive a final confrontation with the adversary.