So first off, let me just say that I feel weird about this, so if you feel weird about this, then I’m right there with you. I went back and forth (and back and forth) over whether to post this, but in the end, I spent a SIGNIFICANT amount of time this year reading (and re-reading, and re-reading) Sherlock fanfiction. This year has honestly been pretty terrible for me personally, and among other things, I have developed pretty severe anxiety. I’ve never had to deal with anxiety before, and I’ve pretty much been self-medicating with Sherlock fanfic. Feel free to judge me, I guess. But it is the only thing that makes me forget the stuff that is eating my brain in whatever moment of the day. It’s also the reason that my reading output has almost halved from last year.
To illustrate the extent of this, I started reading the fanfics pretty hardcore in January, and since then, I have accrued 523 bookmarks over at Archive of Our Own. Those are just the ones I liked enough to save, and possibly read again. And I’ve read most of them more than once. Several of them more than four or five times. I do not know how many I’ve read that didn’t get bookmarked. That statistic is lost to time.
But I thought since these fuckers took up a majority of my reading life this year, I should review a couple of them, just for shits and giggles. (And because it feels weird reading and not reviewing stuff for you fine people.) Here are six of my favorites. These are all novel-length except for the Honorable Mention, which I just wanted to include because it emotionally destroyed me.
Lastly, you’ll notice that these are all m/m, Sherlock/John fanfictions, and yes, they are pretty explicit. I have no qualms about this, but I thought I should mention. Also, they are all so good and if they had been written not as free to read fanfiction, I would have paid money to read all of them.
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Performance in a Leading Role by Mad_Lori — Let’s start with a fandom classic. This is an AU (alternate universe, basically, but here’s a link that explains if you’re not familiar with the term . . . in fact, all of these except one is an AU, so you should probably click over real quick) set in a world where both Sherlock and John are actors, famous ones. Sherlock is an Oscar caliber actor, and John is a great actor stuck in a rom-com rut whom nobody expects anything of. Both of them are offered the chance to star in a film by Ang Lee that everyone is predicting will clean up at the Oscars. It will give Sherlock’s career a boost, as he’s had a string of flops the last couple years, and it could take John’s career in a whole new direction. The movie is a love story (but not romance) between two men, and it’s notable that them being gay is not the story. No one, including Sherlock, believes that John can handle the role. But it soon becomes clear that the two have incredible chemistry on and off screen, and John is very talented, and the two develop a close friendship. The rest of the story deals with the fallout from their meeting, and dealing with the soon-to-be release of the movie, all the way through awards season.
I’m not doing a super great job of explaining this, but Mad_Lori is a super talented writer who clearly knows Hollywood from an insider’s perspective. The details in this are fantastic. She also has a wonderful grip on John and Sherlock as characters, and watching them deal with the fallout from their time filming this movie is so satisfying. Also, the romance between them is delicious. She also takes lots of time to detail what it would be like for two A-list actors who are suddenly out of the closet, and in a relationship with each other. This is something that has never happened in real life.
She wrote a sequel, but I can’t bring myself to read it because I liked this one so much.
The Frost is All Over by Chryse — I actually just finished re-reading this one. It’s a Dickensian AU where John and Sherlock meet as boys. Sherlock is the son of an Earl, and John is a stable boy on the estate. Here’s the author’s summary, it does a good job of conveying the tone:
“John was brave and clever and loyal, a commoner who longed for an exciting life. Sherlock was dashing and brilliant and passionate, an Earl’s son who longed to solve crimes. Being a Tale of Glorious Adventures, Love Letters, Treachery, Longing, Secret Identities, Deathbed Confessions, First Kisses, Daring Escapes, and True Love.”
This one is like if you mashed up Oliver Twist and Jane Eyre with a coming of age romance. It’s so fun watching how the author takes the tropes of Victorian literature (and adds in some smut, let’s be honest) and applies them to the story. There are a bunch of fun literary references as well, so the author is clearly very well read, and doesn’t shirk the research.
The character work in this one is just so fantastic. You feel everything the boys are feeling. At points it’s pretty sad to read. But it has an unambiguously happy ending. This author always has to promise a happy ending so their readers don’t start a riot, and they put their characters through so much shit. But that makes the happy ending all the more satisfying when it does happen.
A River Without Banks by Chryse — Everything I just said about anguish and happy endings applies to this one (same author) but times one thousand. This one is long and epic, over 200k words! But totally worth all the soul-wrenching anguish. It’s in part inspired by Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, sort of mashed up with Stephen Hawking (and Sherlock of course). I can’t emphasize enough how much she puts poor Sherlock through in this fic. If I hadn’t been promised a happy ending, I probably would have quit it, because the emotions he and we as readers are put through are beyond the pale. If you know the premise of Life After Life, you probably know the gist of this, but essentially, an old school chum of Sherlock’s invents time travel, and he goes back over and over again to relive his life in different parts, trying to reset the timeline to find the correct one, and some of the timelines almost broke me. But by the end, when things finally start to go right, it just feels so good. Impeccable characterization, hugely imaginative. This shit could be an actual book. I am still not 100% convinced this author hasn’t actually published something traditionally. They definitely could if they wanted.
A Cure For Boredom by emmagrant01 — Haha, almost didn’t do this one, but thought well, why the hell not. This one starts off simply with Sherlock being bored, and John yelling at him to just masturbate like everyone else does, except Sherlock isn’t like everyone else. John gets roped in somehow, almost without his knowing. There is a sex club and a spreadsheet and lost of consent talk involved.
This is the story that Fifty Shades of Grey wishes it could be. It is unapologetic erotica, but it also has a plot and an emotional through-line. And John and Sherlock falling in lurrrve. But mostly it’s really hot sex. I once read another fic writer refer to this as “the Gone With the Wind of Johnlock fanfiction.” I don’t know if that’s the best comparison in terms of subject matter, but it’s definitely accurate if you mean something along the lines of “everyone has heard of this and probably read or thought about reading it at some point and it’s downright fucking epic”.
The Heart in the Whole by verityburns — This is the only non-AU on this list. It takes place just after season one (and I believe that’s when it was written as well). In this story, the bomb actually went off during the confrontation with Moriarty at the pool in “The Great Game”, and due to a concussive brain injury, Sherlock is now blind. This story just does such a great job detailing the ramifications of this, with Sherlock learning to cope with his disability, and John helping him. His eyes were a huge part of his ability to deduce people and continuing The Work, so they come up with the idea that John will learn to become Sherlock’s eyes. Also, they fall in love (dur).
This one is one of my favorites because of the way verityburns interiorizes John and Sherlock’s emotions. Season one Sherlock often comes off as cold, but she handles that well here, and his developing humanity as he learns to care for John, to depend on John.
A Study in Winning by Jupiter_Ash — Sherlock and John are tennis pros, both competing at Wimbledon. John is a washed up player on his last legs, and Sherlock is an up and coming hotshot who is favored to win.
This was one of the first fanfics I read early in the year, but I still remember it very fondly. I’m a sucker for a good sports romance, and that’s essentially what this is. Take out the fanfic aspect, and this could be published on Kindle tomorrow with cheesy pictures of tennis players on the cover, all sweaty or something. (Romance novel covers are so terrible, y’all. It’s so rare that they’re good. Every time I see a good one, I celebrate inside. I throw a tiny party in my mind.) Points for excellent use of Moriarty. Most of the time I find his appearance in fanfic tiresome and skip through his parts, but he is just present enough here (as another tennis player) to be a threat, but not present enough to harsh my buzz.
Honorable Mention goes to “Alone on the Water” by Mad_Lori, for being the saddest fucking thing I’ve ever read EVER. I sobbed for an hour after reading this. I will never read it again. Just thinking about it makes me want to curl into a ball and cry. I just needed to share my pain with somebody.