Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Review: The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King ★★★

The Beekeeper's Apprentice (Mary Russell, #1)Description: What would happen if Sherlock Holmes, a perfect man of the Victorian age--pompous, smug, and misogynisitic--were to come face to face with a twentieth-century female? If she grew to be a partner worthy of his great talents? (From Goodreads)

My Review:
This book is one that has been recommended to me by quite a few people... I probably would have never picked it up, having practically no interest in beekeeping myself (although I certainly do think that bees are important... SAVE THE BEES!), but people kept telling me to read this, read this, read this now! So, I finally got around to reading it, only to find that the expectations that I'd set for it actually hampered my enjoyment of this book.

I've only read one Sherlock Holmes story, the first one, "A Study in Scarlet", and I enjoyed it. Holmes is different than I'd ever really thought of him, since we always see him represented in that awful cape and earsie-hat with a pipe in his mouth and a magnifying glass in his hand, and a handlebar mustache, practically with a speech bubble over his head that says "Elementary, my dear Watson!". This old-fashioned fogey sleuth of a Sherlock Holmes is nothing like how he's actually represented- as an eccentric, misogynistic, drug-using genius who deep down has an intense and unshakeable love for humanity. He's quite the character.

As is young Mary Russell, who contains a similarly working mind to Holmes's and who has an eye for detail and a loneliness that Holmes endeavors to fill, and in the course of this friendship, he begins to shape and mold her into his assistant. They become very close, and have a very complex relationship: part equal partnership-slash-father/daughter-slash-mentor/pupil. They respect one another, but do not shy away from saying what needs to be said.

The relationship between Russell and Holmes takes center stage here. That's what the book is focused on. Russell narrates for us, and gives us more of an understanding of things from her side, and shows us not only the Holmes that people see, but the Holmes as he is. This is what the book is about, and that is made abundantly clear by the sheer amount of time dedicated to this facet of the story. Russell takes us from meeting, to meeting of the minds, to friendship, respect and then love... all the way through to the dedication and sacrifices that they are willing to endure to retain their bond.

The writing style here was gorgeous and appropriate for the early 20th century language and formality that would have been in use then. The French variations of words are used to lend both an air of formality and authenticity to the time, locale and education of the characters, for instance, words like "rôle" and "débris".

The writing was also very, very descriptive. Almost too much, I have to say. I know that it makes sense, and adds a believability to Russell's character to have done this - I mean, who is going to believe a 19 year old who on par with Sherlock Holmes just on her word? She's got to prove her eye for detail and retention. I get that, but here, the language, while still beautiful, hindered the story, because while I'm impatiently waiting for the action, the narration is moving along at a leisurely Sunday drive through the country pace.

Add to that that the story proper didn't even get started until halfway through the book, and I have to admit I got a little impatient. I was expecting a kind of fast-paced exciting ride, with unpredictable Holmes at the wheel taking us careening through seedy London underground life, recklessly charging in and saving the day, but that wasn't what I got at all. To be honest, the mystery plot, the one that involves someone trying to kill Holmes and Russell and everyone Holmes loves, felt very much like an afterthought. Almost as if the author wanted to write about a plucky young orphan being mentored by Sherlock Holmes, forgot about the conflict until midway through, and then just edged it in where possible.

I'm not saying this to fault the author -- the story was good, and the writing was great, but this is definitely one case where expectation worked against me. This is a book for a lazy rainy weekend, not one for someone looking for a vicarious thrill-ride.

I may pick up the next in the series one of these days, but if I do, I think I will pick up the audio version... by all accounts it is very good, and I think that this story would lend itself to audio quite well. :)


  1. Great review! I have to confess, this sounds VERY interesting. Thanks for sharing!

  2. It was very interesting - especially for anyone looking for an interpretation of the inner workings of Holmes himself. I loved him here, and couldn't stop picturing him as a distinguished-with-grey-temples Robert Downey Jr. ♥