The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Sherlock is an angel, not fallen, definitely not fallen, in a London where a wide variety of supernatural elements exist.
The Angel of Crows is a collection of intertwined episodes, which is similar to a collection of short stories, yet structured more like a series of the TV show Sherlock with a main plot-of-the-week but with some overarching story threads that build to the end of the book, or season, as it were. This is Sherlock (the TV show) fanfic, admitedly so.
Writing alternate versions of Sherlock Holmes has a fairly long tradition; I tend to like them. I don’t read a lot of fanfic per se, though, mostly because I feel getting into fanfic might be a little dangerous for me. When I was younger, I constantly reread books. These days I have a lot of new things I want to read and don’t want to get set on an infinite spin cycle of Sherlock Holmes or other favorite fiction.
At any rate, I was curious as to how this book would play out. I’ve read another book by this author under her Sarah Monette name and liked it.
There seem to be plusses and minuses to this particular approach to these ideas. (Whether this is consistent across all fanfic, well, probably not.)
– Familiar characters.
– The drama is focused on the plots, not the two main characters (Crow and Doyle–the “Sherlock” and “Watson” characters, that is–get along well and even treat each other with consistent kindness).
– Plot twists that wouldn’t have been acceptable on TV were fine here.
– The plots got tired, mainly rehashes of Sherlock Holmes plots, and got shorter and less interesting as the book went on.
– There were logical inconsistencies between the Angels being so limited and the Fallen being so powerful; how does any sort of stable society exist?
– It feels like this is really a Neverwhere-meets-Sherlock fanfic and there is a second set of rules about the world that’s not handled openly.
– The worldbuilding wasn’t organic with everything else; something like Anno Dracula by Kim Newman or A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullen has an overall vision for the world that comes to life.
– Some of the plots didn’t pay off, as in, the plot was wrapped up almost as an aside and in the middle of what should have been a smaller, less important plot! One of the big plot twists was completely obvious, if you knew Sherlock Holmes at all. And in a world that has been designed to give readers what they want, there were definitely plot threads where the satisfying choices didn’t happen.
How I experienced this was:
– I gulped down the book like a long cool drink of water.
– But afterwards I didn’t feel really refreshed, and if there had been more of it, I would still have been gulping for more.
This book was good and fun! Don’t get me wrong. But overall it tells me that fanfic as such may not be for me. Books like this one, where the author has put fanfic out into the wider world, should be fine overall, but may not be something I seek out. What made this book work for me was the author’s writing and ability to handle the characters. Reading an author who isn’t as standout as she is would probably leave me disappointed.
So I think I will leave the first-wave reading to fanfic fans, yet not avoid fanfic-that-is-now-a-packaged-book, but not seek it out, either. Other intrepid souls can bring back the cream of the fanfic crop, as it were.
I want stories that feel like the whole thing fits together seamlessly. Sometimes new work that’s built on existing work can do that; often it can’t. The Angel of Crows didn’t quite make the jump to taking on a life of its own as a retelling (which is what I’m looking for) but was quite readable if you’re a fan of Sherlock.
Recommended if you’re a Sherlock fanfic reader or a historical urban fantasy reader in general. A perfectly readable page turner, even though it doesn’t make the leap to quite becoming its own thing.
Read more of my reviews.
Check out MY revisioning/fanfic of Alice in Wonderland (with zombies) and see if I have put my money where my mouth is. Free as of this writing.