2.16.2015

Book Review: Garment of Shadows

Hello!  Today I am kicking off the book reviews for this month with a mystery; one which I am not sure about.  Mixed feelings over here.

Title: Garment of Shadows: A Nobel of Suspense Featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes

Author: Laurie R. King

Publisher/Price: Bantam/$12.61 here

Type: Fiction

Genre: Historical Mystery

Number of pages: 304

Number in series: 12

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Overview: Garment of Shadows is a historical mystery set in Morocco at the time of the Rif Rebellion in the early 1920s, which involves France, Spain, Morocco, and could easily end in war.  War lords grapple for power, and Sherlock Holmes and his apprentice-turned-wife, Mary Russell, are there to help sort things out.  Well, Holmes is, that is.  Mary has signed on with some film company is and working on that in the desert when she is abducted.  When she comes to deep in an unfamiliar Moroccan village, she realizes she has blood on her hands, a major concussion, and has no idea who she is.  Holmes, who assumes she is with the film company only realizes she is missing a few days later and seeks her out with the help of some Moroccan friends.  Russell really truly has a bad case of amnesia, causing her to forget about her relationship with Holmes, but her memory gradually returns.  We are not introduced to the mystery until deep into the book, and it has to do with Mary's abduction as well as the abduction of a friend of her and her husband.  The story is heavily-laden with political intrigue, and there is a sharp plot twist right a the end.  

My thoughts:  Ugh, I'm not sure what to think about this book.  I desperately wanted to love it, desperately wanted a woman/Holmes duo to work and be absolutely brilliant, but I'm not sure it worked for me.  So first off, I want to talk about that dynamic.

Now I have said before and still believe that Sherlock Holmes is such a classic literary figure that he can be remade in myriad ways and reamain Sherlock Holmes.  That may still be true in this case, but that doesn't mean I completely agree/enjoy the husband/wife dynamic between Holmes and Russell.  I tried to take extensive notes on my phone while reading this book, and I had some thoughts on their relationship and Holmes' role in the book.  The Sherlock Holmes of King's novel is completely opposite from the Sherlock of BBC's TV Show or even Conan Doyle's original detective of Baker Street.  He is barely recognizable.  Granted, he is a little older, a little wiser, but I saw none of his quirks or even brilliance in this book.  His wife solved the mystery, and it seemed he had little part in it.  She rescued him when he was in a bind, she suggested the crazy theories.  The Sherlock I know and love would have been the one to shock everyone with his impossible ideas and deductions.  There was zero of that in this book.  There were no deductions, no eccentrics, no Sherlock.  I guess the reason for my disappointment in his character was that I went into the book thinking Sherlock would be a main or even co-character.  But I felt like he was sidelined, and we don't even meet him until far into the book.  I was expecting, or rather, hoping, that Mary Russell and Sherlock would have a relationship a little like him and John Watson: Sherlock would pace around working through his crazy hypothesis, and Mary would act as the practical, level-headed one, fielding his questions, reassuring his doubts, etc.  That's what I was hoping for, but their relationship/partnership was nothing like that.

When I finished the book, I realized that in order for me to enjoy the series and the chemistry between Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes, I would have to fall in love with Russell.  After Garment of Shadows, I enjoy her, but I don't love her.

Second, I want to talk plot, for a minute.  The book opens with Mary Russell dealing with the fact that she has a concussion and has lost all her memory.  I have never read a book where a character had to deal with amnesia, but from the reviews I've read on Goodreads, and otherwise, amnesia seems like a slippery thing to write about.  I guess it's been done too much too badly, that there was a lot of wariness when it popped up in King's story.  However, like many reviewers said, I have to say that the amnesia thing really worked in this case.  I enjoyed it a lot and King executed it perfectly.  For someone who had never been introduced to Mary Russell prior to this book, it was a little confusing, but also an interesting way to get to know her.  I really enjoyed that.

Moving on to the main plot of the book.  It was confusing.  Like, I had to keep reminding myself of the mystery and what was going on and who was good or bad, and that's not a good sign.  I don't know if I was just distracted while reading it, or what, but I honestly had a hard time with it.  There was a ton of history about Morocco: more history than I've ever encountered with a historical mystery.  As some reviewers said, there was almost too much.  And you know me, I love my history, but I'll read a nonfiction book for that, thank you very much.  It was a lot to slog through in this one.  There was a lot of political intrigue, which got a little hairy, several long conversations, and a couple characters who got fuzzy.  But, I may have been seriously distracted while reading it.

Third, I want to cover a few more random things.  First, King nails description.  Like, wow.  After Russell wakes up with the concussion and no memory, she begins her journey of moving around the city and eventually finding Holmes.  I don't necessarily think it's essential to the story, but King paints an amazing picture of the Moroccan town where Russell is.  You can almost smell it.  She is amazing with words and metaphors.  Second, and this goes along with what I just said, King is a brilliant word smith.  The writing in this book is beyond amazing.  I would read it all over, just because of the way she writes.  It's astounding.  Finally, if you're new to the series, I would not recommend this book as a starting point.  I rarely start series with the first book, but it is essential in this case.  I think my confusion would have been a lot less had I known the characters going in, especially since there were some in here from Russell's prior adventures.  It would have been really helpful to have had backstory.

So in conclusion, this book is not for superfans of Sherlock Holmes, like me.  I will have to fall in love with Russell before I fall in love with the series, and for that reason, and because I so greatly appreciate/respect good writing, I will continue to read this one, starting with the first book, of course.  If you are not a diehard Holmes fan (you're breaking my heart), you will probably enjoy the series, because you won't care about his role being less than he is worthy of.  I will give this series another chance, in fact, I have the first book in my room now, but I will go into it with a different perspective and expectations having read Garment of Shadows.  

Thanks for reading!  I will be back on Wednesday to talk about a special author.  xo, Ella

P.S. I fell behind on my War & Peace reading this week, so I will be back this coming weekend for an update about that.  Oops.  

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