Oh, this was gigglingly good fun, this one!
I have to thank Leedock’s review on the blog here for introducing me to this I had been looking for something a little lighthearted, and “It’s a sexy paranormal alternate universe gender-bending Sherlock-y bunch of goodness” really sounded like it could fit the bill! Then when I went to Audible and the Publisher’s Summary mentioned shark punching?
I was sold. Completely and utterly sold.
In this cheeky Sherlock Holmes homage, the titular detective is one Shaharazad Haas, a powerful sorceress who’s always out for a good time, or failing that, a touch of laudanum. Our Watson is former military veteran John Wyndham, who, after fighting what appears to be an interdimensional war, has been inflicted with some kind of time travelling wound. Looking for lodgings post-discharge, he ends up as Ms Haas’ new flatmate at 221b Martyrs Walk.
The mystery at the centre of the book involves identifying a blackmailer. One of Ms Haas’ former flings, Miss Eirene Viola, has been trying to get on the straight and narrow and has become engaged to a one Miss Cora Beck, a respectable fishmonger. However, someone seems rather intent in not letting their relationship go ahead, and has started threatening poor Eirene. As someone who formally kept company with the likes of a sorceress, among others, Eirene has a rather colourful past, so elucidating the identity of the blackmailer involves Ms Haas and Mr Wyndham embarking on some rather exotic adventures.
To be honest, Shahrazad Haas and John Wyndham share only a fleeting similarity with Holmes and Watson. Instead, what they really are is a fantastic comedy duo. Shaharazad Haas, when she isn’t being smug and insufferably correct, is usually indulging in histrionics; whether or not it’s shooting the walls of her apartment, bemoaning the loss of Eirene’s very naughty ways or complaining that people aren’t being interesting enough. Despite being a Difficult Person, she is terribly fun to read about and is the prime source of the book’s witty banter. For example:
“I certainly did not kill him. Eirene and I simply contrived a situation in which Master Roux, of his own free will, exposed himself to extradimensional forces that tragically consumed him.”
I think you can gather a lot from Shaharazad Haas’ personality just from that one quote.
On the other hand, John, our narrator, is more the straight man of their relationship. John, with his very religious upbringing – which he has since put behind him – is a man of very Victorian sensibilities, who’s politeness and eagerness sometimes puts me in mind of Discworld’s Captain Carrot. He’s the perfect foil for Shahrazad, and the author milks his naivety for all they can get.
John also gets the chance to become the centre of comedy himself in later sections of the book when he is temporarily removed from Ms Haas’ company. The parts where he ends are arrested are side-splittingly hilarious, and its Second Augur Lawson who gets to be the straight man as John innocently digs himself deeper and deeper. (Personally, I think part of the problem is that John sort of fancies the Second Augur, but because of his upbringing he doesn’t know how to process it…)
As for the plot, it has a simple story arc which is just an excuse for shenanigans than anything else; more suited for an adventure story than a detective one. Which, despite the Holmesian trappings, this book is more of the latter than the former. A more complex plot probably would have distracted from the shark-punching, sky-pirating, vampire-filled craziness.
My only real gripe with this book is that the early chapters indulge in a bit too much over-telling, and some of Johns interjections as the narrator can get a little repetitive at times. But overall, this is a fantastic pastiche of all matter of fantasy goodness, which a Holmesian cherry on top – and I highly recommend it for anyone who just wants to switch their brain off and have a gleefully good time.
So thanks again for your review, Leedock!
So for Bingo purposes, this is very obviously a Cannonballer Says