Published: June 23, 2020
Publisher: Tor Books
Pages: 448 (Hardcover)
My Rating: 3.5/5.0
A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
A fantasy novel of alternate 1880s London, where killers stalk the night and the ultimate power is naming.
This is not the story you think it is. These are not the characters you think they are. This is not the book you are expecting.
In an alternate 1880s London, angels inhabit every public building, and vampires and werewolves walk the streets with human beings under a well-regulated truce. A fantastic utopia, except for a few things: Angels can Fall, and that Fall is like a nuclear bomb in both the physical and metaphysical worlds. And human beings remain human, with all their kindness and greed and passions and murderous intent.
Jack the Ripper stalks the streets of this London too. But this London has an Angel. The Angel of the Crows.
Friends. Countrymen. This is not the book you expected based on the amazing synopsis. I mean, the synopsis does say that, but fair warning. This is purely and simply, Sherlock wing-fic (fanfic but give a character wings). I was just as shocked as so many other reviewers seemed to be, but I wasn’t entirely disappointed. It was fun and catered to my love for the mystery solving, brilliant Sherlock Holmes and the ever loyal John Watson.
To be clear, the characters are not called Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, but rather Crow and J.H. Doyle. Crow is an unusual sort of angel who doesn’t have a building to be guardian to the way the rest of his brethren do. He’s an anomaly and has managed to bend the rules and declares himself the Angel of London. J.H. Doyle (or Dr. Doyle) has rather traditionally been injured during the war in Afghanistan and his injuries have resulted in his return to London where he can’t afford a flat by himself. If you’re at all familiar with the BBC show or the books you’ll guess what happens next. They become fast friends, solve crimes, and have dangerous adventures but this time the author throws in a bunch of supernatural stuff and Jack the Ripper.
Crow and Doyle, while original in some aspects, are comfortingly familiar characters. The cases themselves are thematically on point with the stories as well, though they certainly have minor differences. It was similar enough that I could guess who the culprit would be at each turn.
While I greatly enjoyed this book, I struggle to rate it because it’s literally Sherlock with supernatural bits and the supernatural parts themselves weren’t all that in depth. The whole angel thing for one could have been so much more detailed! Angels guard a building. If the building is destroyed, the angel usually becomes Nameless and they sort of float about in a drone type state until further notice. The Named angels can’t leave their buildings, but protect them and usually the inhabitants. Crow has managed to avoid this, though I won’t spoil how. Angels can Fall and become evil, but this is merely glossed over. So many of the potentially amazing supernatural elements were just vague.
This was tremendously fun, but it certainly wasn’t what I expected from Katherine Arden’s latest book. Admittedly, I would hate to have to live up to reader’s expectations following her much loved and acclaimed The Goblin Emperor. If you like Sherlock and/or re-tellings of Doyle’s stories then you’ll more than likely enjoy this as well. Do note that Crow (our Sherlock) doesn’t so much do amazing deduction as what seem to be brilliant guesses. I think this is in part due to Dr. Doyle being the main POV.