5.23.2017

Book Review | A Monstrous Regiment of Women by Laurie R. King: Vol. 2 of the Sherlock Holmes-Mary Russell Series

Yes, another book review! It's in the cards for me to delve into this review of A Monstrous Regiment of Women, the second installment in the Sherlock Holmes-Mary Russell series of case and adventure-laden novels, brought to life on ink and pages by none other than Laurie R. King! I know some of you will feel a bit of second-hand embarrassment, but I'll say it anyway: I'm actually listening to the Sherlock BBC theme whilst typing up this draft. So, don't judge me! 😄

In this second installment, Sherlock Holmes takes a backseat, and Mary Russell takes the reins, so to speak. Let the review commence!

Summary & Setting

So, in the previous installment, The Beekeeper's Apprentice, we are first introduced to Mary Russell when she is 15 years old and is just beginning her theology and chemistry studies at Oxford. In this installment, she is now almost 21, and is wrapping up her studies and finals at Oxford and is seeking London for Sherlock Holmes in the disguise of a scruffy working-class young man. (This whole exchange is hilarious, I might add!). Mary is also now on her own with a healthy sum of money in London's high society, and out of her aunt's clutches, which she has had to endure pretty much since her parents' and brother's untimely deaths years previously. Mary is at the age of acquisition of her inheritance from her parents - the beginning of the book focuses on that, mostly.

Mary Russell meets up with fellow Oxford scholar and poster-woman of philanthropy, Miss Veronica Beaconsfield, who assists low-income families in London and is actively involved in the New Temple, a congregation of progressive charismatic women who are all part of many different walks of life. Mary aquiescently agrees to go with her friend to attend a service of the New Temple, and it's run by a dignified leader named Margery Childe. So, in spite of the good deeds to society and apparent lack of anything sinister going on in backdrop of the Temple, as it is, after all, seemingly a safe haven that promotes growth, change and empowerment of women who contribute to socioeconomic change to further better society, in the events that follow, it soon becomes apparent to Mary (and everyone else who is a participant in the Temple) that there is definitely something amiss, and there are more sinister events brewing, as women's deaths soon begin to surface.

While Sherlock Holmes is pretty much on-call for whenever Mary may require help in this case, for all intents and purposes, the great detective takes a backseat in this novel. However, we find out a lot more about Mary and her character, quick wit, intelligence, and how she handles cases and also how she crafts her disguises and builds upon friendships (and alliances, I suppose one might say).

Narrator

This adaptation takes on the same veining of narration as the first novel - the narrative is told in Mary Russell's point of view. 

Characters

From the many characters Laurie R. King re-introduced to us in the first installment, The Beekeeper's Apprentice, in this one, it's all on Sherlock and Mary now. Dr. Watson and Mycroft are talked about, of course, but they sadly don't make an appearance in the novel... 

Margery Childe is one of the pivotal main characters in The Monstrous Regiment of Women, and she is a well-crafted character, in my opinion, because as a person (a lady in the 1920s, for that matter) who holds a great deal of charisma, power and influence, to somehow remain just so entirely innocuous, is mildly unsettling, not to mention a bit fascinating, in the realm where a good mystery is concerned. Is there more to this lady than meets the eye?

We learn more about Veronica Beaconsfield, as well as other participants of the New Temple, including Margery's, erm, haughty assistant Marie. 

Author's Writing Style

Laurie manages to keep to the style of writing which was prevalent at the turn of the 20th century, as she did in the first installment. 

Metaphors

The Bible is a very strong metaphor in this story, in that passages can easily be misconstrued and misread for their true meaning, and that is a topic in which Mary Russell is well educated, and was regularly tutoring Margery Childe during their sessions. Ultimately, not looking into scripture in its appropriate context can lead to other misunderstandings, and those misunderstandings can (and do) manifest themselves, and as this mystery unfolds, it definitely proves to be the case.

Overall

⭐⭐⭐3/5 stars. This is an outstanding series, no question about it. I'm making progress in the third installment, A Letter of Mary, at the moment, and quite like it. This second installment was just a bit...awkwardly presented, in my humble opinion, and that includes both the relationship and partnership between Holmes and Russell, as well as the cases involved. Also, the fact that this installment focuses quite heavily on subplots of religion and feminism kind of overpowers the mystery at times, though such concepts in a mystery are almost always good concepts to lead with, and an effective literary device (the concept of religion and orthodox is taken in so many different directions in societies, so the concept is very sound and very real).

However, all parts of a whole (i.e. this book series) won't be ideal to all fans of a series, and I just think that this second installment did not provide as strong a mystery as it could have, in my opinion. If you don't mind Sherlock Holmes taking a backseat and you want to learn more about Mary Russell and their very sudden tension and chemistry, along with a strong case of what a lot of ideas coming from estrogen can produce, with not a lot of testosterone in the story, then you'll love it. However, I kinda couldn't wait to finish it and go on to Letter of Mary, the third installment, which I'm making progress in reading at the moment. Although the pace and momentum of the story of Monstrous Regiment of Women were very consistent (Laurie has a knack for that, thankfully!), I just didn't enjoy reading it as much as I had hoped.

Honestly, when I'm making even more progress in this series, I can see Monstrous Regiment completely going to the back of my mind, and I can't see myself referencing much from it in my future adventures with this series, apart from if or when Margery Childe makes a reappearance. Who knows, though, I may not even remember her if she's brought up again later in the series.

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