THE BEEKEPER’S APPRENTICE or, On the Segregation of the Queen is the first in Laurie R. King’s long-running Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series. The premise is that when the retired Holmes meets 15-year-old Mary (and their first encounter is quite delightful) he recognizes her as his intellectual match and makes her his protegé (in a later book his wife). After Mary proves herself solving cases with Holmes, then without him, someone with a grudge against Holmes targets her, Watson, and everyone else close to Holmes. Can they figure out Who before Who leaves them dead?
This was a very mixed bag for me. I enjoy the Holmes/Mary relationship (I could have done without making it romantic — matching minds or not, a fifty year old and a teenager?) and the main plot, particularly how the villain plans to destroy Holmes even beyond the murders. However I hate the way King writes Watson as a good-natured duffer; he’s a good deal more than that, and it feels like she’s trying to prove nobody could ever be as good a partner for Holmes as Mary. And the early mysteries aren’t terribly interesting, serving no purpose other to establish Mary has the right stuff. But that may be just the awkwardness of an origin story, so I’ll try this series at least once more.
ARTHURIAN ROMANCES, TALES AND LYRIC POETRY: The Complete Works of Hartmann von Aue collects the works of a medieval German poet I’d never heard of before, though that’s certainly not a reflection on him: his versions of Chretien’s Erec and Iwein are good, and show a deadpan sense of humor at times, like the line from Poor Heinrich, “You would have to have a virgin of marriageable age willing to suffer death for your sake. Now it’s not the usual behavior of people to do this eagerly.” I imagine him delivering that to the audience and everyone laughing.
THE CANING OF CHARLES SUMNER: Honor, Idealism and the Origins of the Civil War by William James Hull Hoffer looks at the once legendary assault by South Carolina politician Preston Brooks on Massachusetts Senator Sumner after the latter’s “Case for Kansas” speech mocked some of South Carolina’s legislators (including one man’s speech impediment) and suggested if South Carolina had never existed that wouldn’t be any great loss. Hoffer does a good job looking at how Sumner’s moral principles and Brooks’ code of honor steered them towards each other (what for Sumner was a moral denunciation of slavery was to Brooks a smear on his beloved motherland) and thereby captured the conflict between North and South in miniature. However the ending chapter chronicling the rest of the incidents that led up to the Civil War wasn’t necessary or relevant; the ending conclusion that by the time of the book (end of the last century) North/South conflict was a thing of the past (we even have military bases named after Confederate generals!) hasn’t aged well.
As I didn’t really care for any of those covers, accept this Gervasio Gallardo cover for illustration:
#SFWApro. All rights to image remain with current holder.