Book Review: The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison
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: 3.5 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Tor (April 1, 2014)
Length: 432 pages
Author Information: Website
Sherlock Holmes with angels—which is pretty much The Angel of the Crows in a nutshell. It certainly wasn’t the book I thought it was going to be, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially since it was so very obvious a pet project for Katherine Addison, who explained in her author’s note the concept of “wingfic” and the impetus behind this novel. Its unique provenance resulted in some hiccups, it’s true; but on the flip side, there’s no denying the author’s passion for her work behind every word.
Opening in an 1880s alternate London, our story is told through the eyes of Doyle, our “Watson” in this retelling. He’s also a hellhound, recently come home after sustaining an injury from a fallen angel in the war, where he served as a military doctor. The search for a new roommate leads him to 221B Baker Street, where he meets the inimitable Crow, the declared Angel of London.
The rest readers can probably work out for themselves. As London is his domain, Crows feels obligated to lend his services to the police whenever they need help cracking a tough case. At the moment, a ruthless killer known as Jack the Ripper stalks the streets, taunting Scotland Yard with the butchered bodies of his victims. It’s up to Crow and Doyle to solve the mystery of his identity and stop his reign of terror on the city. Meanwhile, fans of the original Sherlock stories will also be able to enjoy re-imaginings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic tales, including A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of the Four, The Hound of the Baskervilles and other such favorites—all seen through an inventive, supernatural lens.
While the concept of Sherlock Holmes as an outcast angel is a fascinating one, a fantasy twist on the original source material certainly isn’t new. I think that’s why I finished this novel feeling like I wanted more. In recent years, I’ve read a number of Sherlock retellings, and in particular, G.S. Denning’s Warlock Holmes and The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall came to mind frequently as I was reading The Angel of the Crows. There are many shared elements between the three works, and while each featured their individual and unique qualities, I couldn’t help but wish Addison had done more to break away from the pack. Undoubtedly, it would have helped this novel stand out more, as we’re currently still seeing this trend where retellings are all the rage.
Still, it’s hard to say anything negative about the world-building, especially the little details. Like the fact there are vampires, werewolves, angels and demons, and a whole host of other supernatural creatures populating these pages. Or the fact that angels are portrayed a little like the fae, like how Crow can’t lie and true names have power. And also hemophages, which are DEFINITELY not the same as vampires. In fact, I only wish the book had gone a little further into clarifying some of the questions readers will inevitably have, considering all these intricate details of the world. Among angels, for example, there are the Fallen and the Nameless, just to name a couple, and the explanations into their origins and traits, etc. simply aren’t sufficiently enough as it stands. In sum, much of the world-building is fantastic, but just feels incomplete.
The characters are also great, and I enjoyed every moment of the dynamic friendship between Crow and Doyle. Truly, there are some incredibly wonderful and heartwarming moments to be found there. Again though, I just wished there had been more. In part, some of the limitations could have been due to the format of the novel, which, as I mentioned before, retells a series of Sherlock Holmes stories. This led to many shifts in focus and lots of zipping around, which had a pesky way of getting in the way of developing relationships or at times interrupting interesting plot threads.
All told, I can understand a lot of the middling ratings I’ve been seeing for The Angel of the Crows, mainly because so many of my own thoughts echo these reviews. But of course, I also had fun with the book and found absolutely nothing disagreeable at all about it. I’ll simply say it one final time: I just wish it had been more. Still, it’s a decent read for any fan of Sherlock Holmes looking for fantasy retelling, and the wingfic angle definitely gave it an interesting spin. Worth checking out, if the premise appeals to you.