Saturday, December 19, 2020

The Angel of the Crows, by Katherine Addison (author), Imogen Church (narrator)

Macmillan Audio, June 2020

Firstly, this is a Holmes/Watson pastiche, in an alternate 1880s London.

The Watson character is Dr. J.H. Doyle, MD, recently returned from Afghanistan, wounded in an encounter with a Fallen Angel, and very lucky to be alive. The damage to his leg is lasting and painful, but we will gradually learn that it's the lesser injury. Doyle has brought back another consequence of that encounter that will affect every decision he has to make, and will keep him in London, where he can lose himself in the crowd.

Under that, there's another secret, but that one, Dr. Doyle had brought with him to Afghanistan.

The Sherlock character is an Angel.

Not a Fallen Angel. Not an Angel in good standing, with a building for his Habitation and responsibility, and his name likely taken from it, such as the Angel of Scotland Yard, or the Angel of Whitehall. Not a Nameless, wandering London with little or no sense of identity or genuine, consecutive memory. No, though he was once the Angel of the Sherlock Arms, he's a bit of a rogue Angel, not Fallen, but one who, when the Sherlock Arms was torn down, took a bit of marble from the balustrade, refused to fade back into the Nameless, and kept the name of Crow that he'd almost accidentally acquired.

He also calls himself the Angel of London, taking on a certain responsibility for the safety of the city's inhabitants.

When we meet Crow and Doyle, they are both in need of a flatmate who can put up with their unavoidable eccentricities, in order to split the costs of a reasonably comfortable flat in a reasonably respectable neighborhood. You know where this is going, though the landlady's name is Mrs. Climpson.

I really thoroughly enjoyed this book. Of course a number of Holmes'Watson stories are adapted to the setting, starting with "The Sign of the Four," very little different, and gradually growing more divergent, more affected by the changed setting, where vampires and werewolves exist in a negotiated truce with humans, clairvoyance is a skill most respectable young ladies learn, and various kinds of magic users exist in varying degrees of respectability and legality.

Oh, and there are hellhounds. This turns out to be very important.

We see something of the caste system among Angels, something of the workings of vampiric clans, called "hunts," less of the workings of werewolf packs, but like vampires, werewolves can live peacefully and legally among humans. There's potential for interesting stories in which we learn a lot more about these groups, and the relations between and among them, including the political roles played by some of the higher-ranking Angels, including Whitehall. But we do see something of these things, and we are also seeing the building of the relationship between Crow and Doyle, and between the flatmates and Lestrade, Gregson, and other London police inspectors.

I'm carefully not saying anything more specific about Doyle's second secret, the one he had even before going to Afghanistan. That would be a significant spoiler, but I found it to be a really interesting twist on the tale Arthur Conan Doyle gave us. Of course, A. Conan Doyle would probably be appalled, but that's okay. I really like it.

The Jack the Ripper story is also woven through the entire book, and it's the source of much of the interaction with Lestrade. Given the time, and the prominence of Jack the Ripper even today, it could hardly be ignored.

The character development, and the changes Addison has rung on 1880s London, are well done and absorbing. Highly recommended.

I bought this audiobook.

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