The Beekeeper's Apprentice

The Beekeeper's Apprentice: or, On the Segregation of the Queen (Mary Russell, #1) - Laurie R. King I'm going to add those books to the list of "novels I wish I had enjoyed more". My opinion about it is very, very mixed.

The biggest peeve I have with it are what I'll deem "weak characterization". I read all the Sherlock Holmes canon—the novels as well as the short stories—and while I can enjoy a Sherlock that is a little different from Doyle's (after all, I did enjoy Thomas Day's over-the-top Holmes in L'Instinct de l'Equarrisseur), here it kept on feeling... wrong. Actually, the impression the whole novel left me with was that of fanfiction. Nicely written fanfic, alright (the style of the writing itself was really pleasant to read), but fanfic all the same, and not in the good meaning of the word. Mary Russell's middle name must be "Sue", and she suspiciously smelt of author self-insert; she's pretty, witty, intelligent, has read a lot more than any girl her age, has got heaps of money waiting for her... and her 'defects' don't really ring true (she had an awful lot of freedom, for someone supposed to be under her nasty, resenting aunt's tutelage). From the start, I couldn't push myself to like her, nor to like reading about her. She was just too perfect in many regards, and knowledgeable in too many areas, considering her age and past, especially at the beginning of the novel.

Next thing: stop bashing Watson, thank you. I've never enjoyed those versions of SH where Watson was just a bumbling idiot. He's far from being it in Doyle's stories, and even if he may seem clueless at times, let it also be said that anyone would look clueless, next to Sherlock Holmes (he's a genius, after all—albeit a misogynistic one, with sociopath tendencies). I was deeply annoyed every time Mary felt compelled to make some remark about her "foolish Uncle John", and, worse, when Holmes himself talked about him in similar terms. Or completely forgot about him when it was clear that he may be targeted too, and had to be reminded by Mary. No. Just no.

The story itself could have been more interesting, were it not for a certain amount of inconsistencies. First, why that foreword about how the author received a manuscript evidently written by Mary herself, yet had to correct its (I quote) "atrocious spelling"? That just doesn't add up with Mary's repeated intelligence, Oxford studies, and overall large bundle of knowledge (yes, I know "knowledge" doesn't equal "excellent spelling", but please, this was just too weird). Some of the events boggled the mind (the Palestine trip, for instance, didn't bring anything to the story, and made me wonder what the heck was the point). Also, the novel felt more to me like a collection of short stories put together—as if they had been written that way first, and then only strung together with an overall plot added as an afterthought; this contributed to reinforcing my impression of all of this being originally fanfiction, with the author putting herself in a place of choice to live through adventures with her favourite character (from the signature at the bottom of the 'introduction' as well as from the characters' behaviour, I'm going to take a guess and predict that in some later book, Mary will marry Holmes).

To be honest, I wouldn't exactly say it's a totally bad book. It'd have scored one more star from me if it had been a completely original story, without Sherlock Holmes, or maybe with just Mary working on her own cases, without him at her side, and only being a remote mentor. But as it is, Holmes would've better be left alone.

If you thoroughly enjoyed Arthur Conan Doyle's stories, don't bother with this book. And if you haven't read them yet, well, do that instead, too. It'll be a much more interesting and fulfilling experience.