Sunday, May 6, 2012

Review: Death Cloud by Andy Lane

 So, if you follow me on Twitter (and please do!) you may know I love a certain Doctor who travels the universe in a Blue Box.

I also love a certain Detective who unravels the universe with a magnifying glass and a different Doctor. I first fell in love with Sherlock Holmes when I was twelve years old and we read one of the short stories in my literature class. That's right. My journey with Holmes and Watson began not with A Study in Scarlet nor with Hound of the Baskervilles, but with The Three Garridebs. Crimes commence, guns fire, bromance happens. I was sold.

I loved it so much, I pushed it on my best friend until she fell in love with it, too.

Then she discovered the film, Young Sherlock Holmes. 

Thankfully, this book is not related to the film at all. I avoided it for awhile because the title is Death Cloud which made me feel like it could have supernatural overtures in it, and whenever I think of Young Sherlock Holmes and supernatural overtures my mind flashes back to this:

I'm mostly sorry if I've just traumatized you.

Fortunately, Andy Lane spares us the animated pastries of doom and gives us a rather intriguing plot and excellent dastardly villain whom fourteen year old Sherlock Holmes attempts to foil while on holiday with his aging Uncle and Aunt in the country.

On leave from his boarding school for the summer, Sherlock's older brother Mycroft comes to collect him only to inform him that he can't come home for the holiday. Their father has been called back to active duty in the military in India. Their mother isn't well and Mycroft is Very Important now, so off to Auntie and Uncle's Sherlock goes.

In the country, Sherlock finds his relatives are a bit odd and there's an evil old woman heading the staff of servants. Mysterious deaths occur both in the village and on the Holmes property, and in order to fit the puzzle pieces together, Sherlock will need the assistance of a new found friend and a newly acquired mentor. He might even have a conversation with a girl, if he's lucky.

When I first finished reading Death Cloud, I gave it three out of five stars. It's definitely an enjoyable romp. Sherlock is fourteen in this story, and his age and the writing style gear it towards middle/tween readers more than older YA, which is what I had anticipated when I picked up the title. However, there's a fair share of violence in the story and relatively graphic imagery, which may overwhelm a more squeamish tween reader. There are several Americanisms, and the writing can sometimes lean towards too young, at least for my reading tastes. My friend and co-worker Amy suggested that any Americanisms might have been changes made by the publisher, such as they did with the Harry Potter series. She may well be correct, as the first three or four books in this series are already out in the UK, and the second one is just being released in the states this month. The title of the second book in this series has also been changed for American audiences.

If this is true, publishers, to you I say jog on. Give me the Britishness.

Also three stars for Sherlock not being quite...Sherlock enough. I understand that this is an exploration of his formative days, but he was a little too removed from the final Holmes that we see for me to buy it. He started coming into it near the end, with some of the arrogance he displays, but over all he just wasn't Sherlock enough for me.

Of course, I may be biased towards the amazing sociopath version of Holmes portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock right now.

Also, I will tell you that this series is trying very much to not contradict anything in the actual cannon of Doyle's Holmes. This means that there's no Watson in this story, and can't be (at least directly) in any of the books to come as Holmes and Watson don't meet until Stamford introduces them in A Study in Scarlet. This, for me, is sad, because I love Watson possibly more than I love Holmes. So less a star for that.

Also, there's a girl. Sherlock's mentor, who is an awesome character I have to say, has a teenage daughter named Virginia in whom Sherlock forms an interest. Virginia in and of herself is a well written character. She's smart and spunky, and is not impressed with Sherlock's deductive skills. It isn't her character that annoys me, it's the fact that she's thrown in to be a romantic plot driver, or at least a crush for a character that will wind up only acknowledging Irene Adler as The Woman. Maybe for teens reading this who haven't read cannon that won't be a deal. It will be interesting to see how Lane develops this in further volumes. I don't know if Virginia was written as to attract female readers to the series, or to be the token pretty girl for the male readers. At least she's got personality, I have to give Lane that much. 

At any rate, after a day or two of chewing on it, I decided to up it to four stars. The plot is very well done and the villain is pretty twisty. I do like me a twisty villain. Clearly set up as a precursor to the future Moriarty role, Lane's antagonist is sufficiently sadistic and rather cunning. The overall "evil plan" might be a little far fetched, but the action and adventure carry it along well enough to go with it.

Points for overall action and adventure, too. Sherlock doesn't back down from a fight, even when he should, which leads to some amusing and nail biting encounters.

Mycroft gets some attention in this, which I love, and he's portrayed very well. 

Andy Lane clearly did his homework, which was the final boost up to four stars for this one. There are a lot, and I do mean a lot, of nods to Doyle's cannon, from bees to boxing to a veiled reference to Holmes' future friendship with Watson. As a Doyle fangirl, I approve.

Definitely interesting enough to pick up the second volume for me, I would recommend Death Cloud to anyone who is a Sherlock Holmes fan and likes a good pastiche or to teens/adults who maybe haven't read or didn't care for cannon Holmes but like YA. 

Death Cloud was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2010.

I haven't seen anything about this being optioned for film, but that's not surprising given the current popularity of both Sherlock the TV series and the Guy Ritchie films. Too much Holmes on the film market? I say never, but I'm not a producer. :)

A true mystery, and an intriguing start to history's most famous detective, Death Cloud is worth your attention if you can get your hands on it.

Check out the official Young Sherlock website for more information on the books, and some nifty interactive features:

Booking it,