The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie King
I put off the acquisition of any sort of electronic reader for a long time. It was partly because I am a snot and I enjoy going on long diatribes about the tangible intelligence of holding a weighty tome in one’s hands and partly because I knew the danger’s inherent of giving me access to a twenty-four hour bookstore. I am, however, now a convert of the highest order, and I preach with a convert’s zeal. I am also probably significantly lighter of wallet nowadays as a I was a year ago, my book budget having reached obscene levels. I am the Imelda Marcos of books. Only, you know, not a brutal dictator?
Early into my Ereader ownership, I found myself prowling through my online bookstore desperate for something new to sate me while I sat, overheated and annoyed, waiting for my laundry to dry. Having been making it rain all over the modern literary titans, I told Safran Foer to put his junk away and soap off the baby oil, and opted for a quick, cheap read, thus ensuring my twenty dollar bills would stay safely in my bank account.
That’s how I met Mary Russell.
Sorry, I’m back. There was a whole ten minute period that I can’t really get across here where I stood up from my desk, wheelie chair spinning behind me as I twirled and laughed with the pure joy at the experience that is Mary Russell.
Be forewarned: This is a serious. There are many books. There will be more. I will warn you, as I wish someone had me – You Will Read Every One Of These Books.
There is, however, a catch. (Isn’t there always?) These books, The Mary Russell novels, are….Sherlockania. That’s right. Sherlock Holmes, y’all! King has made some tweaks – namely, Mr. Holmes’s age gets an update. Holmes is buzzing around, a retired dude tending bees in Yorkshire, and the story opens as the first World War begins. True Sherlock fans, I can feel your intelligently raised eyebrow all the way from here and I hasten to reassure you – King succeeds in creating a Holmes that would make even the most ardent Conan Doyle devotee squirm with pleasure. She succeeds in this by make Holmes a peripheral foil, a necessary mentor to our central character – Mary Russell.
Laurie R. King never lets you forget for a moment that these are Mary’s books – not Sherlock’s, and it really says something that she has managed to create a character strong enough not to be dwarfed by Holmes’s shadow. Mary Russell, not to put too fine a point on it, IS A FUCKING FEMINIST ICON Y’ALL! The Beekeeper’s Apprentice is our introduction to the young Russell. She is a tow-headed, fairly androgynous youth with a penchant for walking through the countryside rocking out to some Greek Philosophy while wearing her dead father’s clothes.
That’s right. Bitch is baller. Her parents – her father American, her mother an English Jew – died tragically in a car crash in San Francisco along with Mary’s brother. Mary, although fiercely intelligent, enough so to garner the interest of Holmes, has a blind spot when it comes to her sad past and believes the accident to have been entirely her fault. Her home life after the death of her parents – living with a grim aunt until she comes of age and can take ownership of her finances – is positively Dickensian in the best possible way.
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice serves as an introduction to Mary, and to her tutelage with Holmes. Unlike the rest of the books in the series, the mysteries – for there are three in this first book, and one involves some stolen meats and one stolen uh, children – are incidental. I mean, yes, there is a “Big Bad” but I won’t spoil that for you. The mysteries of the first book are well-written, but rather than serving as driving points of action, they serve to better introduce us to our heroine and to the dynamic of the Holmes Russell partnership.
You will relish watching Mary grow in mental acuity and emotional intelligence. In an era where it wasn’t common for a woman to pursue education, Mary is a fierce Academic who attends Oxford and dedicates her scholarly pursuits to ancient Judaica. She is a woman apart from other women, a confident odd-duck, who sees the world differently, who has no issue bending her gender to solve a case, or speaking out when the world would have her be silent.
The book is – dare I say it – rollicking. But you’ll be mistaken if you view it is a simple ephemera, as summer reading. As the series progresses and matures, so does Mary and the world around her. It’s great for a mystery buff, for an anglophile, or for quick readers craving more substance than your average drug store paperback.
Stellar Russell Holmes Digital Art Courtesy of Elf Dust