Book Review: Warlock Holmes: The Sign of Nine 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 of 5 stars
Series: Book 4 of Warlock Holmes
Publisher: Titan Books (May 21, 2019)
Length: 400 pages
The fourth Warlock Holmes book kind of snuck up on me, but it was met with welcome joy because of how much I love this series. I can always count on G.S. Denning’s sense of humor to make me laugh, and I was definitely not disappointed! The Sign of Nine might be my favorite since A Study in Brimstone, and even just the first chapter had rolling with laughter.
But first, a quick crash course for the uninitiated: Warlock Holmes is a creative reimagining of Sherlock Holmes, as you might have already guessed, cleverly injecting paranormal elements into the classic literary tales about the beloved detective character. However, what makes this series different—and why you should check it out—is its satirical spin, for in Denning’s retelling, Holmes is less of a brilliant deductive mastermind and more of a bumbling, incompetent idiot. For all that he can cast spells, read dreams, and commune with demons, on most days Warlock can hardly be counted upon to conduct his own business or even make his own tea without burning the house down around him. The truth is, the real genius living at 221B Baker Street is John Watson, Warlock’s more sensible and capable partner who helps keeps everyone in line and the place running smoothly.
But in the wake of My Grave Ritual, Watson has become seriously incapacitated by illness, his bloodstream having been contaminated by the essence of a sorcerer mummy which now gives him the power of prophetic dreams. In addition, he cannot seem to stop thinking about Irene Adler, the femme fatale who has become his latest obsession. This has caused Warlock Holmes no small amount of consternation and guilt, believing himself to be the cause of his partner’s injuries and misfortunes. Stepping up to become a better person, Holmes also attempts to distance himself from Watson in order to protect him from further harm.
Watson, however, would have none of it. Like the previous volumes, The Sign of Nine is presented as a series of short tales chronicling the adventures of the two men, as told from Watson’s point-of-view. Needless to say, the sudden reversal in their roles has made him cranky and indignant. Four books in though, it’s heartening to see how much their relationship has developed, and I’m also enjoying this fresh take on their usual dynamic. Watson, who has always prided himself on his intelligence and sophistication, is now shocked to find he has become the slovenly and unstable one. Holmes, on the other hand, has become the caregiver, looking out for Watson and making sure he doesn’t leave the house without putting on pants.
Fortunately, these changes have not affected the rhythm or tone of the humor, merely shifted it in a different direction so we can appreciate it from another angle. Watson is as witty as ever, and if anything, he’s even funnier in this book with a more sardonic and snarkier edge to his humor. Likewise, Warlock Holmes is still a loveable, blundering weirdo. Also, while I found the comedy in last couple of volumes to be slightly more slapstick, this one returns to a more balanced state between the subtle and the unsubtle, very similar to the way it was in A Study in Brimstone. Thing is, I don’t typically do well with too much silliness or juvenile humor, which is why, unsurprisingly, my favorite part of the book was all the clever wisecracks and rejoinders in the dialogue, not to mention how it was mostly the story’s satirical components that made me laugh. That said, Denning does silliness and slapstick in such a genuine, passionate and down-to-earth way that it’s hard to fault him too much, even when he’s pushing things over the top.
Speaking of which, the source material for Warlock Holmes is clearly just as important to the author as his creations, because he goes to great lengths to try and incorporate elements the original tales into this world in which Holmes is a warlock, Inspector Lestrade is a vampire, and Tobias Gregson is Torg Grogsson, an ogre. You can tell Denning is having a blast writing these books because a lot of that enthusiasm is transferred to the reader, explaining why even the shorter and less eventful tales were so enjoyable to read.
Here’s hoping that there will be more Warlock Holmes books in the future, especially with the larger series plot arc with Moriarty still unresolved. I’ve come to care a lot about these characters, and I can’t wait for another adventure with them.