Books

The Angel of the Crows (Katherine Addison) – Book Review

The Angel of the Crows follows Doctor J.H. Doyle, a military doctor who is injured by a fallen angel on the battlefields of Afghanistan and sent home to England with a pension. Doyle meets an old friend in London, Stamford, who helps him to find a place to stay, along with the bizarre angel named Crow. Now, anyone familiar with Sherlock Holmes fiction can already see what this set-up is, and yes, it works so, so well.

Crow is fascinated with humanity, and in particular, crime; and as he sees the entirety of London as his domain he wants to help those in need throughout the city and solve crimes. Together with Doyle, the two of them end up getting involved in a variety of mysteries, including the mystery of the Agra treasure, the disappearance of Euphemia Rucastle who appears to have returned home to The Copper Beeches, and the sudden death of Julia Stoner who mentioned something about a speckled band before her death. Amid all of these retelling of classic Sherlock Holmes stories the pair also hunt for the mysterious killer known as Jack The Ripper.

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The thing that really makes The Angel of the Crows stand out isn’t just that it’s putting a new spin on classic stories, but that it is making an entirely new world. The book is set in a world where the supernatural not only exists, but is a part of everyday life. Angels exist and look over public buildings. vampires have treaties with the humans and no longer kill, instead operating the equivalent of opium dens. Werewolves run respectable businesses. And there’s more that are only hinted at, such as ghosts, curses, and other spectral beings. Addison spends a lot of time laying out the rules of this world and explaining how things work, and it feels like a very lived in place that could actually exist; and this information is always presented in very natural ways and never feels like an info dump.

It’s also a lot of fun trying to recognise certain Holmes characters, and seeing how they’ve been translated into this new world. Obviously Holmes and Watson are completely different people, but there are occasionally characters who don’t seem to have changed, such as Inspector Lestrade. Whilst it’s fun seeing these characters in this new environment, I liked trying to pick out the altered ones, like Moriarty or Mycroft Holmes.

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The biggest character changes are the main two, and if I’m honest they’re the most interesting versions of Holmes and Watson I’ve seen in years. Doyle has a few secrets, one of which is teased during the first half of the book, with another that comes out of nowhere and changes everything about how you read the character. I’m not going to say what these secrets are, because it would be horrible to spoil either, but I’m definitely going to be reading through the book again to see how it works knowing these hidden twists to the character.

Crow, the Holmes counterpart, is a brilliant piece of writing, mainly because almost nothing is done to change the character. Obviously at first glance this sounds strange, because he’s an angel here, but his personality is mostly the same. Crow is just a uncomfortable around people as Holmes, he doesn’t understand the complexities of human emotions, he’s not always polite, he’s obsessive with small things, and he sometimes doesn’t know things that others take for granted. There have been some adaptations that try to explain away these quirks as him being a sociopath or even having him on the autism spectrum, but these always felt a bit odd. However, him being an angel, a creature that doesn’t work the same as humans, who didn’t grow up learning human interaction, fits Holmes so well. Crow might end up being one of the best versions of the character ever.

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I could talk about this book for hours. About how much I enjoyed it, for the love it clearly has of the source material, how it’s bold and brave with that material and makes it its own thing. I fell in love with this world and characters so quickly that I pre-ordered the hardback version of the book before I’d even finished, and would love to talk to the author about the story and characters. If you’re a fan of gothic horror, historical fiction, urban fantasy, or Sherlock Holmes, this book will not only satisfy, it’ll blow you away.

The Angel of the Crows is out on 17th September from Solaris.

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