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.

The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars 

Genre: Fantasy

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.

25 Comments on “Book Review: The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison”

  1. I’m still looking forward to this, even though there are so many mixed reviews. I personally haven’t read many, if any, Sherlock Holmes retellings, so maybe that will work in my favor😁

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  2. i haven’t read a single Sherlock Holmes retelling as of yet, so, I think I’ll like this one. The cover is gorgeous, plus, “Sherlock Holmes with angels” – Yeah, I’m going to like this one. Great review, Mogsy. 🙂

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  3. I often have a hard time with fantasy or sci-fi retellings of what are usually more classical stories. I think I tend to enjoy the ones that are more inspired by the original source but take it somewhere else with different characters and settings. I have the hardest time when the same characters (or authors) are used in the retelling. So I’m not sure if this is one I’ll try, but it’s good to know it’s out there and what to expect if I do find myself in the mood for this sort of tale. Thanks for the great review.

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    • I know what you mean, retellings can be tough because you gotta balance what you keep from the source material and what you put in that is all unique and completely your own, and not a lot of authors can find that sweet spot!

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  4. Great review! I read this earlier in the month and felt pretty much the same. Although I very much enjoyed it, it wasn’t enough to make it higher than a 3-3.5* for me. I felt it stayed too close to the original cases and the fantasy element didn’t give enough of a twist to that. Especially the first case was almost literally taken from the original.

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  5. Reading your review it would seem that the author tried to fit too much into this story and that if she had tried to stick to a more limited number of concepts this could have turned into an amazing read. Still, a retelling of Holmes & Watson sounds fascinating…
    Thanks for sharing!

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  6. Retellings can be really weird, like sometimes they don’t work for me if they’re too close to the original and that’s what I keep hearing about this one. Thanks for the review!

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  7. I’m starting it next week, and now I’m even more curious (though I have revised my expectations accordingly to your review ;)) I really like Holmes’ retellings/spin-offs, but I much prefer them to have original content.

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  8. Yeah, I like this you know, but I had some reservations. If this is a standalone then it really has some plot holes and incomplete threads but if it’s intended as a start of series then it’s kind of exciting because this could really become something great. I loved the author’s enthusiasm and her clear love of these stories as well, but I was a bit puzzled that she used so many stories in one go. Still, I would be very happy if it turned out more books were intended.
    Lynn 😀

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  9. Omg I only said to someone the other day that I couldn’t think of any Sherlock retellings so I’ll have to let them know about this one. The supernatural creatures have definitely left me intrigued. And as I haven’t read any retellings of the stories before maybe I’ll have a better experience with it?

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  10. Pingback: Bookshelf Roundup 06/27/20: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

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