Laurie R. King, 2010
I read the last Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes book, The Language of Bees, slightly over a year ago. I remember that at the time I was a bit disappointed that it ended on a cliffhanger, so I would have to wait to see what happened next. This is the sequel, as promised. The two books connect; do not attempt to read this one without the other.
I'm conflicted about this book, overall. After finishing it, I didn't much like it. I felt that the style had drifted too far from the early books, that the plot disappointed, and the writing was thin. Then I took a breath, went back in and re-read several sections that I knew I had been reading very quickly (in order to get to the plot.)
And just like that, I fell in love with the prose again. There are some great lines, and some interesting themes explored. The voice I remember and love is in there. I still think the plot is severely lacking, and some of the writing tactics are trite beyond belief, but I'm more sanguine about the book now than I was upon first finishing it.
Specific Criticisms (i.e. SPOILERS) Below
My first problem with the book is with the secondary characters, namely the villain and Goodman. Goodman is an interesting character, but for someone whose actual effect on the plot is largely peripheral and could have been dispensed with, far too much of the book is about him. Especially since this feels like the second half of the Language of Bees, and he's introduced randomly in this volume. I'd have rather he have his own book, rather than being shoehorned into this one. He could have matched thematically, had the themes followed through (more on that below.)
The villain was pathetic. I never understood his plan, and he would have been much more compelling if what he thought of himself had been closer to the truth. He could have been interesting, clever, could have easily had a point, but instead he was stupid and venal and so shallowly evil he should have had a mustache to twirl.
The book shifted perspective far too often, and chose too many perspectives to shift between. I'd looked the other way until now, but for a series that started strictly limited first-person to have mutated into having more than five characters being followed separately is annoying. It takes away some of what has made the series special, and overall this one feels more like a generic historical thriller than previous volumes.
The short chapters with tons of white space constantly broke the flow and the cutesy repeated word motif (i.e. ending a chapter and beginning the following unrelated chapter with the same word or phrase) grated on me.
My largest problem is actually the themes. The themes were great, fascinating, wonderful. There was so much about dragging these characters into a future that didn't want them, aging out of joint with time. I loved it.
Once, he'd lived in a world where one could tell a man's profession and history by a glance at his hands and the turn of his collar, but now every other man spent his days in an anonymous office, and even shopkeepers wore bespoke suits.Unfortunately, the plot didn't follow through. Nothing changed in the status quo. Nothing the villain did had any effect that was really felt. King didn't support the theme by having the characters lose anything, or refute the theme by beating the villain through anything other than dumb luck. No mystery, just a lot of running around, with no consequences for mistakes. This could have actually been a great final book if the plot had supported the themes. As it is, it feels disjointed.
Also, fake-out cliffhangers? Really?
Now it says a lot for the writing style and my adoration of the previous books that I can actually, to a degree, look past all the problems I have with it.
To sum up: Good Writing, Poor Structure, but I will read the next one.
2 Stars - An Okay Book (really most like 2.5...)