Book Review: A Study in Brimstone by G.S. Denning
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1 of Warlock Holmes
Publisher: Titan Books (May 17, 2016)
Length: 336 pages
Any book that could make me laugh like a maniac deserves high marks from me. It’s been a while since I’ve read something so funny—and I do mean funny, as in exploding-in-uncontrollable-giggles-so-that-nearby-bystanders-are-staring-at-you-sidesways-and-backing-up-slowly funny. This was something I did not expect. When the Warlock Holmes series was pitched to me, I figured it would be your run-of-the-mill classic literature mashup with paranormal elements. Oh, little did I know.
The key to this book’s success, I think, was balance. Denning stuck close to the source material while still keeping the tone light and readable, and he dressed the story up with just enough of the fantastical to make it feel unique and different. After all, everyone knows of the great fictional detective Sherlock Holmes whose logical reasoning and powers of observation are unparalleled. But what if, instead of a brilliant genius, he was a bit of a dippy eccentric, albeit endowed with arcane powers and the scary ability to tap into the world of demons? This, in essence, is Warlock Holmes. He’s well-intentioned, but rather dim. To make up for it though, at least he’s something of an expert in the supernatural and occult.
Fortunately, Warlock also has the help of his more sensible roommate Dr. John Watson to keep him in line. In time, we also discover that Watson’s actually the true detective with the astute deductions, desperately coming up with perfectly reasonable explanations to try and cover up all the weird stuff his partner gets into. In this first book, we join him and Warlock in a retelling of many of the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories, so that “A Study in Scarlet” becomes “A Study in Brimstone” and “The Adventure of the Resident Patient” becomes “The Adventure of the Resident Sacrifice”, and so on and so forth in this same hilarious vein. Along the way, we even get to meet Inspector Lestrade, who is now Vladislav Lestrade, a vampire, and Inspector Tobias Gregson is now Torg Grogsson, a ballet-loving ogre.
Honestly, I was surprised at how much I loved this. For one thing, I wouldn’t say I’m too familiar with the classic Sherlock Holmes tales. For another, I’m often wary of books described as humor. What can I say though, but Warlock Holmes ended up being right up my alley. It was funny in a way that worked for me, silly in places but not over-the-top, thanks to the moderating effects of the writing style which stayed relatively close to Doyle’s. And yet, it was also a bold and relentless riff on the source material. It’s important not to get the wrong idea though, for all of this is clearly done out of love and in good fun. Denning takes the original stories and just runs with the idea of “supernaturalizing” them, while having a blast in the process.
In turn, I had a hell of a good time with this book too. I enjoyed the premise of Holmes as a warlock, as well as the idea that Watson is the real brains behind the duo. They make a comedic pair, though much of my delight was in the fact that most of the humor in the book is plot-driven, going beyond simple one-liners or relying on slapstick. In other words, the author did not go out of his way to create funny situations, but rather, the characters reacted in entertaining ways (that also fit their personalities in this context) to the events unfolding in each story. Nothing irks me more than forced humor, so I was glad to see this was not the case.
In terms of criticisms, I don’t actually have anything too negative to say. After all, we’re talking about a book called Warlock Holmes: A Study in Brimstone here, so it’s really not too hard to guess its shtick, and as long as you know what you’re in for, it’s hard to be disappointed. As creative retellings so, I thought it was a good one, with plenty of charisma. The storytelling is also straightforward, with a clear eye as to what it wants to achieve, and the characters are compelling in their re-imagined forms, with fascinating new personalities and backgrounds to match.
All in all, I had a wonderful time with this book, and boy am I glad to have the sequel Warlock Holmes: The Hell-Hound of the Baskervilles already on hand because I’m really looking forward to continuing this series. I’m sure I’ll be diving into it soon.