"All books are either dreams or swords,/You can cut, or you can drug, with words." - Amy Lowell, 'Sword Blades and Poppy Seed'

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Beekeeper's Apprentice: Or On the Segregation of the Queen

King, Laurie R. The Beekeeper's Apprentice: Or On the Segregation of the Queen. New York: Picador, 1994. 346 pages.

"In 1915, Sherlock Holmes is retired and quietly engaged in the study of honeybees when a young woman literally stumbles into him on the Sussex Downs.  Fifteen years old, gawky, egotistical, and recently orphaned, the young Mary Russell displays intellect to impress even Sherlock Holmes--and match him wit for wit. Under his reluctant tutelage, this very modern twentieth-century woman proves a deft protegee and a fitting partner for the Victorian detective." (description from the book cover)

Overall rating: ***** (five stars)

  • Subtle social commentary.  Though this book is not about WWI, many interesting observations are made of the effect of the war on British society.  This is a theme which becomes more important in later books.
  • Narrative style.  The book is told in first person narration by someone who is looking back over past experiences.  This often leads to amusing side notes by the narrator. ("Looking back I am deeply embarrassed at the effrontery of a girl not yet nineteen pointing her finger at a man nearly three times her age, and her teacher to boot, but at the time it seemed appropriate.")
  • The mysteries.  In many mystery books, such as Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot stories and the original Holmes stories by Doyle, the detective is entirely outside the case, with the only personal thing at stake being the detective's reputation. King is not afraid to bring the mysteries home to her protagonists, giving us more emotional insight in the psychological tolls of such work.
  • Characterization. Not only are the two main characters both fully-fleshed, real people with plenty of strengths and flaws, the minor characters are never treated just as handy tools to move along the plot.
  • Chronology.  Early in the book, the narration skips about in time a bit, making it a wee bit difficult to keep the chronology straight until the book has settled back down into a more linear structure.
  • Appropriation of an already existing character.  This is not a problem for me, but for anyone who is a Sherlock Holmes purist and who strongly disapproves of anyone trying to write stories about someone else's characters, I would not recommend reading this. 

"Begin at the beginning..."

So, I've decided, just for the heck of it, to start keeping a blog reviewing the books I'm reading, as well as maybe posting various random book-related thoughts.  I'm a graduate student in library science and history, a new aunt, and an all around bibliovore, so I hope that I should be able to talk about a wide variety of books.  Depending on my mood, I might even look at movies based on books, but we'll see :)  I also hope to cover both older and newer books.  Just because something was published before I was born does not make it undeserving of reading today.

I might start by importing some book reviews from Goodreads, where I keep track of the books I read and the books I own.  Feel free to comment and share your opinions about any books I'm discussing!

Guide to Ratings (following the Goodreads method):
* (one star) = disliked
** (two stars) = neutral (it was okay)
*** (three stars) = liked
**** (four stars) = really liked
***** (five stars) = loved 
Keep in mind that these ratings are purely subjective.  In addition, for full reviews with stars, I will try to always include a list of the strengths and weaknesses of a book to help readers understand my rating and to help them make an informed opinion as to whether they would like to read it.

Note: I will try to tag each post so that readers can easily find posts relating to their interests.  I'll tag by author, by form (novel, non-fiction, short story, etc.) and anything else that seems pertinent.