I was fifteen when I first met Sherlock Holmes, fifteen years old with my nose in a book as I walked the Sussex Downs, and nearly stepped on him.
I read the most recent of this series recently, and really enjoyed it, so of course I had to pick up the first in the series and get introduced to the characters properly. I just couldn’t shake the impression that I was missing out on so much when I read The language of bees. And, of course, one should always begin at the beginning. It is a very good place to start, or so I’ve heard.
Set against a WWI background this novel introduces us to a retired Sherlock Holmes, he has left London and is busy looking after his bees, when along comes Mary Russell. At 15 years old she is full of herself, sarcastic, and not afraid to give her own opinions, even when they aren’t looked for. And all of a sudden Holmes begins to wonder if she will make a successful apprentice. For, as you may have guess, he has not fully retired from the life of detection.
As Nymeth points out a lot of this book is a commentary on the role of women and gender in society, especially in one where gender roles are becoming less fixed. This is mainly due to the war effort, the men are away at war and the women left behind must adopt in order to keep the country running.
But never fear, it isn’t a polemic, this theme serves the plot, rather than the other way around.
I’ve never been a huge fan of re-imaginings of famous characters. I’ve always thought, well just create a similar character of your own and make all your changes that way. But I’ll make an exception in this case. Holmes is different than I remember from the couple of Conan-Doyle books I’ve read, but much of this is because he is in different situations, and being confronted and challenged with different ideas. Plus in many ways he is the same old character, just from a different perspective. Although I do think that perhaps Russell is a little hard on Watson and his version of events, but then again, she is very fond of him.
Russell herself is a great character. Never in the slightest bit Mary-Sue-ish, she still has more than enough attributes to be a real partner to Holmes. I can’t wait til I get my hands on the second book.