'The Angel of the Crows' - Book Review

The Angel of the Crows
by Katherine Addison
Tor, 446p.

Katherine Addison (real name Sarah Monette, a name she also writes under) has an "Author's Note" at the end of the book. It's both a concise introduction to the concept of fanfic and says a lot about the book itself so I think it's worth including here:

For those of you who do not know, there is a thing called fanfiction, wherein fans of a particular book or TV show or movie write stories about the characters. Fanfiction, as an umbrella term, covers a vast variety of genres and subgenres. One of those subgenres is something called wingfic, wherein a character or characters have wings. The Angel of the Crows began as a Sherlock wingfic.

I spent a couple years working at a Science Fiction and Fantasy library (Toronto's Merril Collection) and became more aware of fanfic than I ever wanted to. But I still hadn't heard of "wingfic" - maybe it's a recent thing. Or she made it up.

Our protagonist and narrator is Dr. J.H. Doyle, who we meet as he makes his way home from the Second Anglo-Afghan War (fixing our timeframe at approximately 1879 ... while this isn't our world, the parallels are very clear). He can't afford a place to stay on his Army pension, and ends up rooming with "Crow" at 221B Baker Street in London. "Crow" is an angel, although a most atypical one. Angels are portrayed as the guardians of large public buildings, and they remain in residence in those buildings. But Crow can go anywhere in the city, and has a fascination with murders. Doyle finds Crow both annoying and charming, and they become an investigative team as well as roommates.

In this version of the Sherlock and Watson story, Watson/Doyle was injured by a "Fallen," an angel who is ... it's not really explained, but no longer an angel. I guess the name "Fallen" is considered explanation enough. They cross paths with hemophages and necrophages (neither well explained in the book), vampires and werewolves (mostly law-abiding citizens), curses, ghosts and hell hounds (being the latter isn't necessarily a bad thing ...). Oh - and laudanum addicts, thieves, and murderers. They also run through their own versions of A Study in Scarlet, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and (apparently, I didn't recognize it) The Sign of the Four ... as well as tackling the Jack the Ripper case. And while the "Watson" and "Sherlock" names have been changed, we still have Lestrade and Gregson, and a vampire clan named Moriarty. Her choices of which names and facts to stick with and which to change seemed arbitrary.

It's perhaps a bit late to point out that I've never read a single one of Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. I have, on the other hand, watched some of the Jeremy Brett TV series, all of the "Sherlock" series, most of "Elementary," and multiple other interpretations of the characters besides. So it was very interesting to see what was to me "A Study in Pink" (the first episode of "Sherlock") recreated as the opening of this book. This is of course because both the beginning of this book and the "Sherlock" episode mirror Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet.

Addison's prose is good, which makes her writing easier and more enjoyable to read than most. I'm a little less sure about the book's structure and plot - a bit too much going on. But Crow and Doyle are slightly bizarre and enjoyable creations, and that made the book worth reading.