Friday, April 29, 2016

A Study in Charlotte (Brittany Cavallaro)

Thanks to Edelweiss for the eARC in exchange for my honest, untainted review!

Though I have yet to read an original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story or watch the BBC version, I find myself quite ensnared by the Sherlock Holmes genre. There's something very appealing to me about ludicrously complicated mysteries and the use of really solid, excellent (if improbable) deductive reasoning to solve those mysteries. As always, I'm a sucker for retellings/reworkings, too, so it seemed a logical (wink) choice to read this book.

And I really, really enjoyed it! Long ago did the magic of "I just need to keep reading" wear off for me (which is, in itself, a tragedy), but rarely a book comes along that reignites that feeling, and this was one of them. I found Watson and Holmes to be well-rendered characters, endearing and frustrating in all the right ways: their chemistry was, for me, quite alluring, and every moment they weren't on the page together was a moment I spent clamoring for them to reunite. The pacing is incredibly deliberate--which some people complained about, I noticed--but that's part of why I was drawn back to the book over and over: the mystery is a slow burn, which is pleasurable in its agony. Sometimes it vacates to the fringes of the novel as Cavallaro opts to focus instead on character development and, considering this is the first of three, I found this to be an excellent, well-executed idea.

Something inherent in the YA genre (can I call it a genre? I want to) means we need to see character growth: they're teenagers, after all, and what a volatile group they are--Cavallaro delivers on this front, establishing concrete personality pillars. I'm excited to see how these pillars shift, tilt, and lean in the two sequels. The ending does struggle a bit to tie everything together, and it resorts to an infodumpy strategy, but I thought that it worked because this kind of infodump is so typical of mysteries (and especially the Sherlock stories) and because the author again works in other information for us to sort through about the characters and world of her trilogy.

I'm seeing a fair amount of criticism about the romance element here--part of that seems rooted in purists, who want all versions of Holmes and Watson to be as platonic as Doyle's. That criticism seems boring to me, so I'll ignore it. The other part of the criticism is pointed at the idea that not every book should force its male/female characters to pair off, and that's something I'm more on board with, though am also more willing to forgive in this novel because 1) it's YA, and that sort of relationship wish fulfillment seems part and parcel and 2) there are more than enough suggestions to imply that the relationship isn't magically beautiful and perfect. The Watson character acknowledges more than once that falling in love with the Holmes character isn't the easy choice to make: indeed, it's the far more complicated one, and I enjoyed how realistic Cavallaro's depiction of this awkward friend/more-than-friend duality is, especially in comparison with other novels in this genre/age group.

I would have readily given this book five stars if it weren't for the problematic use of rape as characterization--Game of Thrones, of course, has received a lot of flak for this in recent seasons, and it is something that needs to be addressed. Of course stories about sexual violence are important and necessary--and I think there are a great many novels out there that do a wonderful job exploring the trauma of such a crime--but there is a weird trend in using it as a device to characterize women as survivors--and using it to characterize evil characters as evil--in a way that trivializes it, and I'm afraid that's what happens in this book, too. The book tries to address it toward the end, but it's still not something I was on board with, so I knocked off a star.

I'm anticipating the next volumes in this series eagerly, because I find them to be great fun.