Friday, September 25, 2009

Review: The Beekeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King

Found via: Popular Paperbacks Twists on the Tale nominees

I love this 'Twists on the Tale' category they've got going on for Popular Paperbacks. It makes me very happy for some reason.

This particular books twists the tale of Sherlock Holmes, set long after the good detective has retired from Baker Street and now concerns himself mostly with science experiments and keeping bees.

I, admittedly, only know Sherlock Holmes through Star Trek. But I still needed to pick up a book that paired Holmes with a spunky young American girl sidekick.

I imagine this story would be greatly rewarding to true Holmes fans, just to give a glimpse of what Holmes would be like in later years. As King states in an interview at the end of my copy of the book, she did not "try to write Holmes stories, but put Holmes in the role of supporting actor." Mary Russell is the star here, starting out as a wayward 15 year old orphan with a keen intellect and curiosity, and growing into a young woman mature enough to hold her own alongside the aging detective as they try to think quicker than an adversary who seems intent to kill them both. As Mary grows up, so does Holmes, both in his opinion of Mary as a student/apprentice/associate and in his physical age, as Mary begins to note that Holmes isn't as young as he used to be and begins to display and uncharacteristic amount of caution in his movements.

I loved watching Mary grow up. She's a very independent young woman, living with a dreadful aunt, and spends most of her time studying: first with Holmes, and then at Oxford. I loved the few scenes she had where she stepped out of her dour student role and went off to be girly, getting dressed up and going shopping and all of that. It was a brief diversion from some of the weighty drama, and really helped shape Mary as a character. She wasn't acting girly out of some deep need to assert her femininity in the oppressively male world of crime solving; she just wanted to try something different for a short while. It's rare to see a character who can both enjoy the trappings of femininity and also recognize that the long skirts and tight shoes aren't necessarily practical.

I've never been a big mystery fan either (have nothing against them, but unlike my mom I don't search them out as a genre), but the mysteries here (for there are several!) are all interesting and compelling. They aren't the type that necessarily leave clues for the reader to figure out before Holmes and Mary, but it's fun to follow along and see what sort of trouble they're going to get themselves into next!
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