Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Book Review: Steampunk Holmes: Legacy of the Nautilus

Due to the length of this review it gets it's own post.  I may keep this longer format for book reviews in the future or I might not.

Steampunk Holmes: Legacy of the Nautilus -

I was quite excited when I discovered this book.  The design and art associated with it was attractive.  I bought the Kindle edition for the reasonable price of $2.99.  Now before I get into my thoughts on this work, I have to make some things clear.  I am a Sherlockian.  I have been a rabid Holmes fan since the age of 12.  I've read all the Arthur Conan Doyle stories many, many times.  I've been part of scholarly discussions of them.  I've read lots of Holmes pastiches (what other fandoms would call fanfiction, but these are published. Yay public domain.)  I've written Holmes pastiches.

So with all of that background, I am a particularly picky audience.  Half-assed depictions of Sherlock Holmes are just going to annoy me.  But I do enjoy pastiches, and am open to pretty wild versions of Holmes.  As I stared reading this book (novella?  144 pages isn't much of a novel, really) I was impressed.  The language did a very good job of recreating the style of Doyle.  As I continued I started to notice that entire sentences were lifted from various places in the Doyle canon.  That's not unheard of in Holmes pastiches.  I started to appreciate the differences the author made from the Doyle stories: Watson has a cybernetic arm with weaponry, Mycroft is Holmes' sister instead of his brother, Holmes drives a motorized velocipede and is a tinkerer of gadgets.

But then as I got to the actual plot, I very quickly realized something: this is not an original plot.  It is the Arthur Conan Doyle story "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans" with some of the names changed.  Instead of the stolen plans being of the Bruce-Partington submarine, they are of the Nautilus.  The name of the dead man is changed from Cadogan West to Cadbury.  The gender of the villain is changed.  But the actual mystery, the solution to it, that's all lifted straight from Doyle.  A good 40% of this book is a slightly altered version of a Doyle story, and as such was really, really boring to me.  After finishing it, I compared the two texts side by side.  The author changes enough around to avoid being a direct find-and-replace plagiarist.  Wording of sentences are slightly changed without changing their meaning.  Paragraphs are added in between the Doyle sections. But it is still a retelling of a story that already existed.

After about 40% of the way through (don't you love the Kindle) the author suddenly breaks with Doyle by adding in a bunch of action sequences.  Shootouts and chase scenes.  Holmes and Watson sure seem comfortable killing a bunch of people.  The fact that the people they kill are mostly Indians may be consistent with the racial attitudes of the time, but since that is an addition by a modern author, I side-eye it a bit.  There is an attempt to make the climax and conclusion of the story different than the Doyle story and create more of a plot tied in with Jules Verne.  But I didn't find it all that interesting.  Action sequence, exposition scene, action sequence, action sequence, exposition scene.  There is no actual mystery or solving of mysteries after the author copies the mystery part of the Doyle story.

The only saving grace of this story, in my opinion, is the writing style.  The author is very good at making her style Victorian and Doyle-esque in a subtle way that modern writers usually have a hard time capturing.  So that impresses me.  The accompanying illustrations are nice, although I wish someone could have copy-edited the LARGE BOLD type under them so that "Lestrade" was spelled correctly.

So, ultimately, I don't feel I can recommend this story.  Someone who has never read the Doyle stories might really enjoy it, but its difficult for me to say that.  Of course, if you haven't, you might just want to go read those, which you can get for free.

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