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.

Warlock Holmes: A Study in Brimstone by G.S. Denning

Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of Warlock Holmes

Publisher: Titan Books (May 17, 2016)

Length: 336 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

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.

43 Comments on “Book Review: A Study in Brimstone by G.S. Denning”

  1. Pingback: Book Review: A Study in Brimstone by G.S. Denning — The BiblioSanctum | Fantasy Sources: Art, Gifts, Ideas, Article Resources, News

  2. Oh my God. Just the change of phrases is hilarious! Also, it reminds me of Me, and Earl and the Dying Girl where the titles of their short movies were changed from its original one. This would be a fresh read for me. ♡


  3. I read a lot of Holmes stories – original and pastiches. It seems that this book is different compared to the ones I read so far. I’m always a bit sceptical when it comes to fun and humour. But your great review convinced me to add the book to my to buy list.

    Thank you.


  4. It was high time that someone recognized Watson’s true value! 🙂
    Jokes aside, though, I understand what a dangerpus beast humor can be, and an author who can make his readers laugh out loud like it happened to you, needs to go on my “wanted” list right now!


  5. I had been eyeing this book for a long while and finally grabbed a copy a few weeks ago at the local bookstore. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I’m may wait until I pick up the second one and marathon them.


  6. I’ve never even heard of this, but glad I know about it now. Humor either works or doesn’t work, so I’m glad this was your type of humor:-D


  7. Yes, Yes, Yes, I want this book in my life. I wanted it anyway but now such a glowing review – and I’d already read another review of somebody who loved it, plus Holmes and Watson – I can’t pass up an opportunity to read about the two of them.
    Lynn 😀


    • Yay! I hope you get to give this one a try soon. I have to say, of all the versions of the Holmes/Watson pairings I’ve seen over the years in adaptions, retellings, etc. this is one of the most original I’ve seen and one of my favorites.


  8. This sounds like so much fun! I like the idea of Sherlock Holmes, but I’ve never really enjoyed the execution, so this sounds right up my alley.


    • Yeah, it really depends on how you like your humor. If you’re worried about execution, definitely see if you can read a sample to see how you do with Denning’s sense of humor before taking the plunge! 😀


  9. OKay, I am vibrating with excitement for this series now! I’m so glad you loved it! I am huge fan of Sherlock Holmes inspired fiction and especially love when it’s done with humor. I’m gonna have to track down a copy of this toot sweet!


  10. Mogsy: thank you for the wonderful review.

    Everyone else: thank you for your kind attention.

    I’m hard at work on Book 3 (Working title: My Grave Ritual) and on days when I’m tired and slogging, it does me a world of good to know there’s people out there waiting for it.

    I shall redouble my efforts.

    And not let it suck.

    I promise.


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  12. Pingback: Book Review: The Hell-Hound of the Baskervilles by G.S. Denning | The BiblioSanctum

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  17. I’m time travelling – visiting this post in 2020 looking for entertaining, funny SFF series that will make me laugh! Thank you for recommending this series and I’m looking forward to tucking into the first one, which I have just acquired:))


  18. Pingback: The FRIENDS Book Tag – Bookstooge's Reviews on the Road

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