I’m not a fan of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes stories (although I’ve read all of them at least once, some more than once, and I’ve see all of the major BBC television adaptations). I dislike Victorian literature in general.
I’m also not much of a fan of contemporary paranormal fiction—I don’t dislike it but it’s not something I seek out.
So there’s really no reason why I should like G. S. Denning’s “Warlock Holmes” series as much as I do.
Because I kinda love it.
Denning’s take on the Sherlock Holmes stories is delightful and silly—a marriage of Victorian mystery with magic and the paranormal, topped off with snarky humor and delicious slapstick. It’s unapologetic fun.
Holmes is a wizard (and pathetically inept detective), as imperious as ever, who plays the accordion and imbibes poisons. Watson is… well, he’s still Dr. John Watson, a medic and a wounded army veteran, but in this rendition, he’s the one with the impressive deductive powers. Lestrade is an annihilist vampire whose partner at Scotland Yard is an ogre with a short temper and romantic heart. Mrs. Hudson is an angry busy-body with an addiction to lurid novels. There are demons and monsters and ley lines it’s all kept secret from the rest of society. Moriarty is a powerful dark wizard who resides in Holmes’ head.
And there are a couple references to a looming apocalypse.
The concept is a bit strained at times but it’s so much fun that a few flaws are easy to forgive.
Each of the two books in the series so far are structured similarly: approximately half the book is a novella, and the rest is a collection of short stories, all presented chronologically. As with Conan Doyle’s originals, these are mostly excerpts from Watson’s diary. Each book ends with a cliffhanger.
Like all the best reinterpretations of the Holmes stories, these are direct adaptations of Conan Doyle’s originals. Much of the delight is recognizing how Denning plays with his source material.
What I find most impressive about A Study in Brimstone, the first book in the series, is how well Denning mimics Conan Doyle’s writing style: despite the contemporary concept and sense of humor, it reads like a Victorian novel.
The second book, The Hell-Hound of the Baskervilles, is the stronger of the two. Denning is more confident in his storytelling and more assured in his style (although he’s slightly less diligent about maintaining Victorian voice). There’s more emotional depth, and more nuance to his characters, to compliment the humor and silliness.
Even better: Warlock Holmes is notably less restrained the second time around, which makes him much more interesting.
As I stated, I’m not a fan of Conan Doyle’s originals, I actively don’t like Victorian literature, and I’m not much into paranormal fiction—so I suspect I’m not Denning’s target audience here. If his novels can win me over so thoroughly, I can only imagine how much more rewarding these are for those readers who are his intended audience.
If you want something fun to escape with, these are worth your time.