Enola Holmes, in London with wads of cash from her missing mother stuffed in her dress, discovers that she has a knack for finding people who have disappeared — all except for Eudoria Holmes, the very person who she set out to find.
She decides to take her skill and turn it into something more. Under the guise of Ivy Meshle, she becomes assistant to the nonexistent Dr. Leslie T. Ragostin, Consulting Scientific Perditorian, Finder of Lost Things.
Being an avid Holmes fan — from the Conan Doyle classics to Jeremy Brett’s portrayals, and now all the way up to the newer versions including BBC’s modern-day miniseries Sherlock — I had to pick up the first book in this series — 'The Case of the Missing Marquess' — when it was first published around six years ago. Meant for older elementary students, it had been nominated for 2007’s Sakura Medal: an annual reading program developed by librarians in international schools across Japan.
It was the first book picked for a Sakura Medal that I had ever read, and I must say that I was impressed. (This year’s nominated novels were definitely not as invigorating, but that is a story for another time.) I remember loving it just as much as 'Eragon' (my favourite book series at the time — and today as well). It was an adventure, and a mystery, and a comedy; it was enchanting and entertaining and I was captivated from start to finish.
However, once I’d finished, I never touched it again, and the librarians — we went through three — never thought to order the rest of the series.
I have since left the school that introduced me to the Enola Holmes series; in fact, I work at the same library now, but every time I saw the book on the shelves I would tell myself, I have to read this again and find the ones that come after this! I never got around to it.
But when my younger sister walked into the house carrying the same book that I had treasured ages ago, I took it from her almost at once and began to reread it. Usually, books that I considered fantastic when I was little seem a bit too simply-written to be of any interest, but this one held my attention for as long as it took to finish — which was about an hour or so.
Desiring more than the singular book I held in my hands — so fantastically written, so sublime of a plot! — I needed more. I purchased three more in the series on my mother’s iPad within the next few days, and read them all. I currently have the last two downloading on my Kindle.
'The Case of the Missing Marquess' had everything I love about Sherlock Holmes — including the man himself! The series is not, as you would think at first glance, about the famous detective’s daughter (it’s doubtful that he’d ever be the type to have children), but of his unmentioned little sister, fourteen years old, born far too late — she’s considered a shame because of it; not to mention she climbs trees and rides bikes and other things that completely disgrace the family — and living with her free-spirited mother, who has, by the time the book begins, gone missing. So Enola sets out to find her.
The tale is witty, charming, well-planned — each book ties in with the rest perfectly, no plot holes in sight as far as I can see — and, contrary to what your first thought probably was, the main character is far from annoying. She is one of the few female protagonists I’ve read of that seem to be just right. She might be stubborn and brash with her brothers, but she is easily embarrassed and she has next to no knowledge of the world before she goes to look for her mother in London. She is tenderhearted and her emotions often get in the way of things (she is fourteen), unlike Sherlock, who can ignore many of the more “moral” implications in a case. She compares herself to her brother a lot, and in the beginning says that one of the only things she can do well is draw accurate sketches, a skill that comes in handy later on. She wishes to be as great as Sherlock, and has a few self-confidence issues all throughout.
Despite the above, she is still determined, smart, and interesting; she looks far too much like her brother and, as previously noted, she admires the said detective greatly (who am I kidding, she practically worships the man), despite his attempts to ship her off to finishing school. Their relationship is possibly the only thing that bugs me. I don’t believe that Sherlock, had Doyle written him, would have as much affection for his sister as he does. I’d venture to say that their relationship in the beginning takes on a more romantic tone than familial; he is attracted to her in the way that he is attracted to Irene Adler — because of the brains. It’s not too apparent, though; I myself wouldn’t have noticed had a friend not mentioned it to me.
The frankly astounding number of puzzles, crypts, and codes that made their way into the series is also something I find very interesting. I do like plays on words and this series is anything but short of them. In fact, the main character’s name, backwards, spells "alone," a fact that she touches upon often.
My favourite sort of communication within the books is that of Enola and her mother. The two of them, through columns in magazines and papers, converse in what a few would call ‘floriography’ — the language of the flowers. Actually used in Britain during the Victorian era, flowers were used by people (mostly young women, and in many cases, their lovers) to send secret messages via bouquets that could not be spoken aloud. This is an older code that I find very useful, and have now vowed to learn by heart. Hopefully I will before the spring flowers are all out. Enola’s mother is a Suffragist, and that brings me to another thing I liked about the series.
It was truthful. It spoke often of the sexism during the time; indeed, Enola flees from her brothers simply because she could not bear the idea of having to wear a corset, and learning how to cook and clean and be yet another upper-class housewife in England serving under an upper-class, working husband with a flock of children to watch over. And let me remind you, this is a children’s book, and for Miss Nancy Springer to put what she did into a series targeted at elementary students, and expect them to grasp the concept, I admire her. Because who says that kids can’t understand such a subject?
On that note, I’m guessing she also expected them not to know too much, as there are consistent mentions of the prostitutes working in the dirt-poor areas of London, and many, many implications of things nine-year-olds probably shouldn’t be reading about.
I realise this is just a bit of a ramble about how I feel about the series but there are so many beautiful parts that I just love that I’m afraid it will be better to simply touch upon all of them than to delve deeply into a singular thing I adore about it, because I’ll get distracted anyway. If there was any one thing I would have to favourite about the Enola Holmes series it would be the sheer ingenuity of it all.
In accordance with the FTC, Quill Café would like to disclose that the reviewer borrowed this book from the library. The opinions expressed are hers alone and no monetary compensation was offered to her by the author or publisher. Cover art is copyright of Penguin and is used solely as an aide to the review.
(Spoiler Free Review)
When Enola Holmes' mother disappears, she is frantic to finder her - but her two older brothers, Mycroft and Sherlock disapprove. Convinced that their mother has run away, Enola's brothers are determined to send her off to boarding school...but she is having none of that.
Setting off to find her mother, Enola stumbles across the case of a missing boy and finds herself in more trouble than she had ever conceived. London is not the sparkling place she had imagined and there are horrid figures that crawl the streets.
Katherine Kellgren is quick becoming my favourite audio book narrator, so after reading the above review I was ecstatic to discover that she narrated the Enola Holmes Mysteries.
Enola is a compelling character, sympathetic without being petty, head-strong and intelligent. Reiterated through the story are her mother's words, "Enola, you will do very well on your own." Boy, is it true! Even Enola's name spelled backwards is "alone." She is a driven character and I was drawn to her.
I will admit that I am not overly-familiar with the original novels by Conan Doyle. I listened to A Study in Scarlet and then gave up on the second installment. Springer does make references to A Study in Scarlet (in the sense of it being a non-fiction account by Watson) but I have nothing to really compare or criticise the borrowed characters in the book. Speaking of references, I did like the one Springer made to The Importance of Being Earnest with Lane and the cucumber sandwiches.
While I am not familiar enough with the Holmes brothers to know if they were portrayed well, I can say that they appear to me to be right arses. They belittle Enola less because she is young and more-so because she is female. Sexism to the max. This is what made me like the book all the more. It hones in on the issues of sexism but also shows Enola's cleverness and gives a right "stuff you" to the notion of her inferiority.
The descriptions Springer gives of East London and even the steel corsets young women are made to wear to refine their body shape was horrific. Almost as horrid as Mycroft's attitude. (If you nap so often, you'll get diabetes, Mycroft.) There was a wonderful grit to the novel and it was riddled with plenty of dangers, mostly "unmentionable" things which made the subtext all the stronger.
I wouldn't say that the case of the missing boy was the most interesting thing in the plot but rather Enola's own journey and how she thought outside the box - even outfoxing the great Sherlock Holmes who she honestly made look a bit of a ninny. I've already purchased the second novel, 'The Case of the Left-Handed Lady' and look forward to starting it...now.
In accordance with the FTC, Quill Café would like to disclose that the reviewer purchased this book. The opinions expressed are hers alone and no monetary compensation was offered to her by the author or publisher. Cover art is copyright of Penguin and is used solely as an aide to the review.