A Study in Silks – Emma Jane Holloway

I loved this to pieces. I really did. I made the mistake of looking at others’ reviews, and I really shouldn’t do that, and I’m not going to let it affect my opinion or my rating (and will do my best not to make this an out–and–out rebuttal of some of those reviews, despite some things said in them which baffled me): I enjoyed reading A Study in Silks, I enjoyed the characters and the plot and the writing, and I even, to my surprise, enjoyed the involvement of his serene consultingness Sherlock Holmes.

It is the tale of a young woman, Evelina, whose rather–upper–crust mother (Sherlock Holmes’s sister) ran off with a young man from a circus background, who then died; disowned by the “better” folk, she turned to the show folk for support, and thus Evelina grew up performing. (I saw a review which called this niece of Sherlock Holmes who grew up performing in the circus boring. If Evelina’s boring, I’m not sure what that makes me. Coma–inspiring, I suppose?) Now, though, Evelina’s Holmes grandmother has – for various reasons – seen to it that she has attended finishing school and is having her Season.

One of my favorite things is a really well–turned phrase, a clever metaphor or simile. And Emma Jane Holloway excels in this area.

– – “The expectation that Evelina would also fall from grace—an event no doubt attended with all the aplomb and inevitability of cold gravy plopping from a spoon—was sufficiently acute that there were days when Evelina wanted to oblige and get it over with.”

– – “One couldn’t throw a dinner bun in London without hitting a liar.”

– – “The tall, lanky Edgerton moved like a giraffe on ice skates.”

I loved the Society for the Proliferation of Impertinent Events.

I appreciated the characters. There was depth to them, and believability. “Tobias was intrigued. People had wanted him for his name, or his looks, or what he might do for them, but never for what he loved about himself.” Poor little rich boy … no, seriously, poor Tobias, thwarted in what he most wanted to do and afraid of being forced into the wrong mold. After all, “A man has needs beyond a stuffed sheep”.

Imogen’s father was an interesting character. “Her hair had smelled of Cook’s baking bread, and for a week afterward his dinner rolls had carried an erotic thrill.”

Imogen and her incipient love affair was adorable. “Tea is never as simple as it appears, Mr. Penner.”

“Well, I understand the school closed the year you left.”
Evelina cringed at the memory. “The headmistress retired after an unfortunate incident with the walking dead, but that’s a tiresome story.”
– I love that that’s all of it. Unless there’s a prequel out there somewhere, there’s just the mention, as tantalizing as her uncle’s “giant rat of Sumatra”.

Evelina was not a Mary Sue: always a plus. She could easily have been one – for a minute I was very much afraid that she would exhibit signs – but no: she was an intelligent teenaged girl with abilities, but not able to beat all comers and swan through unscathed.

Speaking of his deer–stalkeredness – I did not think this would work. But it did. Often the best way to keep me from being a fan is to graft one’s own cutting onto a family tree where it ought not to belong – but this actually did work for me. This Holmes, dispensing very Holmesian advice to and expecting high levels of competence from his sister’s daughter, is in a very similar vein to Laurie R. King’s incarnation, in that – in his cool and detached way – he takes under his almost indifferent wing an orphaned girl, and expects her to rise. I found this Holmes’s reactions completely believable. (Keep in mind, of course, that when I read the canon through last year I discovered that I despise the original Holmes, so close enough is … close enough.)

I did find the statement “He holds his clients’ confidentiality in high regard” as funny here as the protestations and situations in the canon; how sacrosanct is confidentiality with Watson in a corner making notes toward future publication?

All too often I have happily dived into a steampunk novel, expecting to love every minute of the ride … only to give up on it in annoyance (or finish it in annoyance). This, though, fit the bill perfectly for me: this did just about everything I’d want steampunk to do. I loved the big bad evil of the steam lobby, and the logic of how it all came about and proliferated and kept everything else down. I loved the shifting boundaries of the different–colored factions. (One thing, though: “One pays once for light and again for heat and thrice if you are so lucky as to receive electricity for your business” – how is that different from now?) I loved the crab/squid.

I saw an outraged note out there about the line “Tobias remembered some Serb had recently published a paper on wireless transmission”, highly indignant that Tesla would be referred to thus… but it’s from Tobias’s point of view. From Tobias I would expect the prime minister to be “that chap with the monocle”, if of course he had a monocle. I was pleased to catch the reference and tickled that it was there, not upset by the fact that it wasn’t more pointed. (Seriously, that’s the only time I’ll reference another review.)

Something that did bug me, a lot, was the quote of a theatre poster (I think): “THE KNIGHTS OF TATIANA VICTORIOUS OVER THE FORCES OF KING OBERON”. Tatiana??? Since when was the fairy queen Russian?

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

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