Series: Charlotte Holmes #1
Published by Katherine Tegen Books on March 1st, 2016
Genres: mystery-thriller, retellings, young adult
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The last thing Jamie Watson wants is a rugby scholarship to Sherringford, a Connecticut prep school just an hour away from his estranged father. But that’s not the only complication: Sherringford is also home to Charlotte Holmes, the famous detective’s great-great-great-granddaughter, who has inherited not only Sherlock’s genius but also his volatile temperament. From everything Jamie has heard about Charlotte, it seems safer to admire her from afar.
From the moment they meet, there’s a tense energy between them, and they seem more destined to be rivals than anything else. But when a Sherringford student dies under suspicious circumstances, ripped straight from the most terrifying of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Jamie can no longer afford to keep his distance. Jamie and Charlotte are being framed for murder, and only Charlotte can clear their names. But danger is mounting and nowhere is safe—and the only people they can trust are each other.
A Study in Charlotte is the first in a trilogy.
Like everyone else, I’m swept up in the whole Sherlock Fever than has made a come back (well, does Sherlock ever really go away)? I’m not an uber-fan of the BBC series, like my sister, but I’ve watched it and enjoyed it enough to appreciate the reboot. My favorite Sherlockian retelling, however, is the TV show House, M.D. It is a loosely based one, but it counts in my book.
To see a Holmes on the shelf featuring a female instantly grabbed my attention. Elementary pushed boundaries with a female Watson, and now, we’re going to finally have a girl directing the show now. How awesome is that, for young girls to read about solving mysteries under the Holmes banner, as a girl? We can be super awkward geniuses with flaws and setbacks, and we can have the name, and not just via marriage. How exciting!
I like to start with the positive – the world building is AMAZING.
I honestly felt that Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson were real people by the time I was done with the book. Cavallaro went above and beyond to bring legend into history. How she crafted her own Sherlock tale to nod towards the Victorian stories, even the more outlandish and over-the-top portions of certain adventures, made me keep turning the pages in the book. The Holmeses and the Watsons of old were more than myths: they were a part of our history, transcending pages and stepping into our world as men of yesterday instead of lore. Even the famed Moriarty family line received the same treatment, keeping the lineages alive, leaping from legend and stepping into the real world. I admit that this book actually had me digging into the folklore surrounding the famous duo of Sherlock and Watson, and my sister was even able to provide some insight that made me appreciate the novel more when I finished it. For example, my sister made the comment that in the original magazine, where Doyle was publishing Sherlock Holmes, the author had commentary from the sleuth after each of Dr. Watson’s stories. Cavallaro added this into her own book, giving Charlotte her own ending chapter, summarizing the story and adding her own commentary, after the entire book was written from Watson’s POV. I will certainly say this: Cavallaro knows her Holmes, and following the same formatting, adding background knowledge into the famous duo’s “history”.
The only problems I had with the book was the disinterest in the two main characters. Charlotte was transformed into a manic pixie dream girl with trust issues, and Watson was a meatheaded “friendzoned” male. I was really disappointed that I felt nothing for them. I respect that the author didn’t make carbon copies of the original Holmes and Sherlock, but the charm was completely missing from the two main roles. The world around them outshined their rather bland personalities, and the forced, “forbidden” romance really slowed the entire story arc, often causing the flow of the book to stumble. I’m really not overly fond of the romance between the two. I could have stood for flirting, or the “will they, won’t they” scenario, but the entire romantic angle was so forced and heavy handed that I ended up just feeling bothered and annoyed instead of breathless and angsty.
Another issue that cropped up, and will more than likely end up as a discussion post, was the use of sexual assault in the book. TRIGGER WARNING AND SLIGHTLY SPOILERY: Charlotte was raped by a classmate who turns up dead at the start of the novel, kicking off the events that create the entire plot for the first book in the series. She was drugged and not able to consent for the act. I really struggled with my feelings regarding this entire event. On one hand, I’m thankful to see that sexual assault and rape are cropping up in books. It helps to see that many women and young girls have faced this problem, and it isn’t an isolated incident or a rarity. Many women keep this crime secret due to the shame and the stigma attached to the claim. So to see more and more girls in YA speak about their own violation is a positive move to get this problem out in the open, and to stop keeping it behind closed doors, lest the victim shoulder all of the blame. However, Charlotte’s rape ended up being used to “weaken” her and felt like a gimmick and a cheap ploy to make the character more relatable and vulnerable. This might have been just the general lack of charisma from Jamie and Charlotte, but it didn’t come across as authentic, and was just more of a hook. It felt cheap.
Lastly, the mystery was odd at times, but it did allow for the Sherlock mythology to crop up in the book, and linking the new crimes to the old Sherlock cases helped tie the book together, and helped explain the world and the connections between Holmes, Watson and their famous nemesis, and also brought in to question on how we define “good guys and “bad guys”. So I gave a pass to the story, when I saw the entire story unfold.
I would have enjoyed this novel more if the two main characters could have supported the weight of the theme. Charlotte and Jamie lack the charm of their namesakes, and the story seemed to suffer greatly from it. However, the world building was amazing, and that is what will have me coming back to finish this series. I would enjoy seeing less romance and have the characters not come across as a John Green knock off. If you enjoy Sherlock, you’re going to want to pick this up for the wonderful connection between the historical and contemporary take on the household and mythological figures.