Wednesday, January 18, 2017

BRIEF THOUGHTS | The Enola Holmes Series by Nancy Springer

Several years ago (okay, so apparently it was 2014 which wasn't that long ago), I read the first in Nancy Springer's Enola Holmes series, The Case of the Missing Marquess.  This is (ostensibly) a middle-grade series featuring Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes' heretofore unknown 14 year old sister Enola Holmes.  Every bit as brilliant as her sleuth brother and not inclined to life as a proper young lady in Victorian England, when Ma Holmes disappears, Enola chooses to strike out on her own.  Along the way of course she solves some mysteries.  

Sounds fun, right?  Well it is and it isn't but more on that in a sec.  I am a bit of a Sherlock Holmes fan fiction junkie and will read anything that has that Holmesian flavor.  Picking up this series was a no brainer and with the set up I was ready to be delighted.  After recently reading the second and third books in the series, The Case of the Left-handed Lady and The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets, I instead found myself mildly depressed, stressed and a little confused. 

My memories of the first book were vague but I feel like Enola interacted with a few other children her age and I went into these two books expecting those characters to be recurring and to play a part in Enola's adventures.  Springer makes the bold and unusual choice of not going that direction and keeping Enola completely alone.  It is obviously what she intended for the character from the beginning judging by the fact that Enola's named spelled backwards is 'alone'.  It's an interesting choice and unfortunately it doesn't really work for me.  

First of all it stresses me out.  Enola is 14 and while in my head I know that girls of that time matured faster or at least more mature things were expected from them at that age and that Enola in particular is especially smart, my heart was not okay with this situation.  How dare Enola's mother purposefully abandon her child to the mercy of her chauvinist brothers and an even crueler world. In books two and three, Enola has accepted her mother's leaving her but spends most of the time in her head, where the reader resides, pining for her mother and feeling desperately lonely. It was distressing in the extreme to me.  As such, I also thought the books read older than middle-grade and are more properly young adult.

Enola being always alone poses a narrative problem as well.  Enola has no one to talk to or interact with  - the reader is stuck in her head as she talks to herself and follows logic trains.  I found it rather tedious and boring.  Even the notoriously odd and anti-social Sherlock has a companion, because hanging around in his head might be an interesting story but not perhaps a very gripping one.  Relationships and their evolution are interesting to me so to give Enola none, even with her brothers, is kind of a bummer.  I respect that Springer avoided the ubiquitous romance found in female character led YA and middle-grade lit but a friend or two would have really made these books work so much better for me.

There are positives of course.  The mysteries are interesting and involve a lot of secret codes.  The secret language of flowers is used frequently particularly in Bizarre Bouquets.  The series is also unapologetically feminist and Enola is an independent girl rebelling against society's sexist expectations.  I just wish the the books weren't so darn grim and melancholy. I listened to the audio of Bizarre Bouquets and it is read by one of my favorite narrators, Katherine Kellgren but unfortunately the rather sober tone of the book is much suited to Kellgren's enthusiastic and vocally acrobatic style.

Okay, so maybe my thoughts weren't all that brief. Anyway, I'm left feeling a little unsure about whether I will continue with the series. I suspect that much of my negative reaction to the books is really just disappointment of my expectations of zany and charming Holmes stories. Has anyone else read this series? What are your thoughts about it?  Am I being overly sensitive and critical?

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