In a Victorian London where magic exists, psychic Nan Killian and medium Sarah Lyon-White – plus their talking pet birds Neville and Grey – come to 221B Baker Street to work with the intrepid investigator who lives there. Not Sherlock Holmes, but his friend Dr Watson and his wife Mary, who are actually Elemental Masters of Water and Air. Together, they set out to solve a case involving ghosts, opera singers and a deadly entity that nearly killed the girls when they were children…
A Study in Sable is the latest – an impressive number eleven – in Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Masters series. While some of the references and callbacks to previous entries may go over the heads of first-time readers, then, this is a standalone adventure which can easily be appreciated by newbies and old hats alike.
A word of warning to intrigued Holmesians, however. Though his image adorns the book’s front cover, Holmes himself is actually a surprisingly small part of the narrative – popping up on occasion to have his logical mind tested by the magic his friends practice. Instead, it is the Watsons who have a more substantial presence, and there is a lot of subversive fun to be had from having good old reliable Dr Watson reinvented as a master magician. What will leave Holmes purists really aghast, though, is the fact that Holmes and Watson call each other by their first names. Now, that’s a controversial change.
But A Study in Sable is really all about Nan and Sarah – this is their book series, after all. As a result, the central mystery is not as robust as you would expect from a novel that features Sherlock Holmes. Instead, Lackey eschews a particularly perplexing case to focus on the relationship of the two central characters, as their sister-like bond is tested by the very woman they are trying to help. There are hints at how things could have tied in to the wider Holmes narrative, but for Doyle aficionados these are left frustratingly unexplored. Perhaps these will be elaborated on in future books?
Overall, A Study in Sable is a light, entertaining read, with some nice historical detail which helps ground the flights of fancy. Though the whimsy and magic might turn away hardcore Holmesians, there is much to enjoy for fans of historical fantasy fiction.
A STUDY IN SABLE: THE ELEMENTAL MASTERS / AUTHOR: MERCEDES LACKEY / PUBLISHER: TITAN BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW