After serving his country in the Afghanistan war, Dr John Watson returns to his beloved London looking for a home. Permanently injured during his service and with little money, John soon realises he’ll need a roommate. By chance, a friend introduces him to the world’s only Consulting Detective, Sherlock Holmes – a man of great intellect and almost terrifyingly accurate observations. Thus begins their many adventures together, starting with the body of a man found in Lauriston Gardens, and the word Rache spelt in blood across the wall. With the police stumped, only Sherlock can solve the puzzle.
Sherlock Holmes is undoubtably the most well known fictional detective in the world, famed for his amazing ability to decipher clues that no-one else can. We are repeatedly told of his genius, through the adoring eyes of Dr John Watson, and the joy of this entire series is the many mysteries and trying to figure out just how Holmes was able to solve them. It is stated by Holmes several times that he is not in fact a genius, but merely able to observe tiny details that other people nearly always miss. The big reveal in A Study in Scarlet shows that it was actually a fairly simple case had the police seen all the details – as Holmes himself says “I’m not going to tell you much more of the case, Doctor. You know a conjurer gets no credit when once he has explained his trick, and if I show you too much of my method of working, you will come to the conclusion that I am a very ordinary individual after all”. Since the novel is written from Watson’s point of view, we are unable to notice what Holmes sees, as Watson is not an observant man – or at least, not as observant as Sherlock Holmes. The reader of this series comes to idealise Holmes as capable of solving anything because we see him through Watson’s eyes as an impressive genius beyond all doubt.
In terms of characters, both Watson and Holmes felt a little flat, especially Watson, which is odd considering he is the narrator of this novel. Watson spends most of his time marvelling at Holmes’ amazing abilities, and Holmes showing off said abilities. It seems that Conan Doyle wanted the reader to feel the same love for Holmes as Watson does, and what better way than to have the whole story narrated by a admiring (though not mindless) fan? This appears to be one of those issues with knowing the characters more through adaptations that through the source material itself. The relationship, which plays a huge part in practically all the films/TV shows, felt under developed as we were told, rather than shown, that they had become friends. This relationship is almost certainly expanded during the course of the entire series, but in terms of A Study in Scarlet, it seems to be sacrificed in favour of the mystery.
There were a few other surprises, namely that the story changes in both scenery and characters in the second half, to explain the mystery, and that the author’s political views aren’t exactly subtle1. On the whole, A Study in Scarlet is an enjoyable book, but I can’t help but feel that people’s love of Sherlock Holmes comes both from the entire series and the many different interpretations we have available.
1 Conan Doyle seemed to really hates Mormons. I wonder why?(less)
There is such a problem as being too clever. Koja, the runt of a litter of foxes, has learnt to survive on his wits alone, as his cleverness has saved him several times already. It has helped him escape traps and gained him friendship with some of the more dangerous animals in the woods. When a hunter so skilful they enter and leave the forest with no trace begins killing his friends, Koja believes his cleverness can save everyone – but in doing so he learns the difference between confidence and arrogance.
The second of Leigh Bardugo’s fairytale short stories, The Too-Clever Fox is another success: well-written, quaint, and very entertaining. After reading Siege and Storm, the comparison between the fox Koja and the privateer Strumhond is very clear, as they both rely on their wits and charm to weasel their way out of problems and win friends. Koja’s exploits are enjoyable to read, and despite the briefness of the story you find yourself engrossed with the plot and the friendships he forms.
In terms of the message this story gives, it is more heavy-handed than the first fairytale, The Witch of Duva. It features similar morals: you can’t always trust appearances, and women are more that their fairytale stereotypes. However, the hunter, the villain of the piece, felt a little too two dimensional. It’s not shown what goes on in their mind, and they never fully explain why they killed the animals other than “because I can”. They just brag about how they cleverly tricked all the animals, which links in to the story’s moral but isn’t much of an explanation.
Another great addition both the series and the world, we can only hope that a full collection of these fairytales will be in the near future.
Once, long ago, it was believed that the woods near Duva ate young girls, and that a witch lived deep in the depths of the forest. Nayda, like all the other girls in their starving village, knows not to venture too far alone, for girls have disappeared, said to have been lured by the intoxicating smell of food. Nayda finds it hard to ignore the wood when her brother Havel has leave to join the army and her father has married Karina, who seems to hate her unreservedly. Soon, Nayda worries that Karina may actually be a khitka: a bloodthirsty forest spirit that can take any shape, especially that of a beautiful woman. To sum this short story up in one word would be: charming. It is written in the perfect fairy-tale style, omnipresent third person, with beautiful detail to the world. The hunger of the starving villagers is captured in a way that is painfully realistic and make the read huger in sympathy, and Nayda's fears and loneliness is evident throughout the story. The best part of this story, however, is that even though it starts as a typical fairy-tale, it actually challenges the troupes often used within these tales - the evil stepmother, the unloved and ignored child, the women who use magic always being witches - and turns them on their head. Traditional fairy-tales have a habit of using two-dimensional characters and categorising women as either the sweet, naive virgin, or the evil, seductive, or bitter villain. Leigh Bardugo uses these troupes only to then twist them around and rip them apart at the end, in a way that makes you see the whole story in a new light and question who is really the villain and try to see the hidden motives of the characters. Even with this though, there is no true villain: no one person who is pure evil through and through. This brings a realistic light to a genre that created many stereotypes, and make Leigh Bardugo an author to watch. 5 stars.(less)