It’s a good thing Laurie King is such a good writer, and is so good at creating atmosphere and characters you can love, because she was in real danger of stepping in that quicksand trap some writers get stuck and die in, where they take something truly beloved and either try to insert themselves, or completely mangle the original thing that is loved.
In this case, of course, that thing is Sherlock Holmes. And Laurie’s Mary Russell could have ended up as a literal Mary Sue*, but she’s actually a really interesting character, feisty and smart and lonely. I can see how people might balk at reading a series about a girl becoming part of a fictional world loved for so long by millions, but I’ll be danged if King doesn’t pull it off.
*I normally hate when people say characters are Mary Sues because more often than not they are using the term incorrectly as a placeholder for some other thing they want to complain about. But in this case, a Mary Sue was a real thing to fear, since the term Mary Sue refers to a character, usually a young girl, written into a pre-existing fictional world so that the author can essentially become best friends with, lovers, or co-conspirators with whatever beloved characters are in that world (I believe the term originated with Star Trek fanfiction).
It helps that her writing style is so engaging. It also helps that her impetus for writing the story in the first place wasn’t to insert anyone or anything into Holmes’ world, but instead Mary was born out of her own curiosity to see what a female character with a mind similar to Sherlock Holmes could do in a story. She ended up putting them together, according to the interview at the back of my copy, because she thought it would be interesting to juxtapose such a young, progressive energetic girl growing up in a post-WWI world, with an old relic of the bygone Victorian era who is essentially living out of his own time. It’s still essentially fanfiction, but it’s a great story, a great mystery, and her characters are fully fleshed out. I will definitely be reading the rest of the series if they keep being as fun as this one.
And now I shall end with quotes:
“My God, it can think.”
“My God, it can recognise another human being when it’s hit over the head with one.”
“You cannot help being a female, and I should be something of a fool were I to discount your talents merely because of their housing.”
“He said nothing. Very sarcastically.”
‘Holmes handed me a cup of tepid coffee, and I sniffed it curiously.
“Did you wash this out after our experiment last night? Smells like chemicals.”
“They’re not toxic. You’ll be fine,” he replied.’
“Isolate her, and however abundant the food or favorable the temperature, she will expire in a few days not of hunger or cold, but of loneliness.”