Thursday, May 2, 2013

Review: Black Ice - Andrew Lane

Black Ice by Andrew Lane
Series: Young Sherlock Holmes #3
Genre: YA, historical fiction, mystery, Sherlockian fiction
Published on January 22, 2013
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Pages: 288
Read From: 4.25.13 - 4.28.13

When teenage Sherlock Holmes and Amyus Crowe, his American tutor, visit Sherlock's brother, Mycroft, in London one day in 1868, all they are expecting is lunch and some polite conversation. What they find shocks both of them to the core: a locked room, a dead body, and Mycroft holding a knife. The police are convinced Mycroft is a vicious murderer, but Sherlock is just as convinced he is innocent. Threatened with the gallows, Mycroft needs Sherlock to save him. The search for the truth necessitates an incredible journey, from a railway station for the dead in London all the way to the frozen city of Moscow - where Sherlock is entangled in a world of secrets and danger.


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? I do continue to like these covers (so much better than that horrible copy of Death Cloud!), with the color schemes and the "symbols" that allude to something in the story itself. Though, in all honesty, the silhouette is beginning to irritate me. Don't really know why; it just is.

Characters: Young Sherlock is not improving. He continues to be too emotional, too dependent on others people's good opinion and approval, and his detective skills are laughable. Seriously - can he figure nothing out for himself? Does he constantly have to ask Amyus Crowe or Mycroft "But how did they do this? Why?" He essentially fills in Watson's role in this series: as a sounding board for Crowe to bounce his brilliant plans off of. When young Sherlock finally begins to do a bit of deducing himself, it's never on important things, and the Author seems to suggest that every method the Sherlock uses was picked up from Crowe or Mycroft. How does this make Sherlock abnormally brilliant? It seems to indicate to me that Sherlock is merely incapable of having any brilliant plans on his own. But I will give the Author partial credit when it comes to Mycroft: he does a pretty good job of portraying his character, though he and Sherlock are still far too close, in my opinion. I have no doubt that the Holmes brothers respected and trusted one another in their own ways, but I don't believe that they ever got along. Two brilliant minds like theirs, coupled with conceitedness, wouldn't get on as well as this Author portrays. I missed Matty in Black Ice, but I was not sorry for Virginia Crowe's absence. Something about that girl just keeps rubbing me the wrong way. My opinion of Rufus Stone, Sherlock's violin teacher, is lukewarm; I don't dislike him, but I don't have any special attachment to him, either. The villains in this book were not nearly as laughable as the previous two - none of them were ridiculously grotesque, - but they were rather obvious and had a tendency to monologue too much.

The Romance: Since Virginia is absent, there are not "strange, growing feelings" for young Sherlock to experience, thank goodness.

Plot: When Amyus Crowe takes young Sherlock up to London to visit his brother Mycroft, it is only to discover Mycroft in the same room with a body, and the murder weapon in Mycroft's hands. Mycroft is arrested, and it's up to Sherlock and Crowe to prove his innocence. Through their investigations, they discover that Mycroft has been (predictably) framed, and it has something to do with the disappearance of Mycroft's agent and close friend in Moscow - and the ever-elusive Paradol Chamber. Together, Mycroft and young Sherlock journey to Moscow, disguised as actors, to find out what's happened to Mr. Wormersley. But the Paradol Chamber is on to them, and they will stop at nothing to apprehend Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes. I have always said that these books are more plot-driven than character-driven, which is the only thing that saves them. Black Ice has, in my opinion, the more interesting plot out of the first three books. Amyus Crowe doesn't come to Moscow with the Holmes boys, which I imagine disappointed some Readers, but I personally was okay with it just being Mycroft and young Sherlock. However, while the discovery of Mycroft with a dead body was a very intriguing beginning, and the explanation behind the murder rather clever, Black Ice spent far more time on action sequences than actual mystery-solving. Nonstop action is all well and good for spy novels, but not mysteries. And this is, in all honesty, a series that feels like it's trying to be the new Alex Rider. Sherlock has one harrowing escape after another, only to encounter still more sticky situations that almost see him dead - or at least brutally injured. It got really wearing after a time, to a point that the chase scenes ceased to be even a little bit exciting. And the rate at which Mycroft solved things - [Spoiler] like the fact that the theatre troupe was evil [End spoiler], or that he was knocked out so he could be framed for the murder - was ridiculous. Mycroft is supposed to be more brilliant than Sherlock, and it took him that long to realize that something was wrong? I spotted it right off! Needless to say, it caused quite a bit of frustration on my part.

Believability: I took issue with the "death by falcon." Theoretically, one could kill someone this way. Falcons can do a lot of damage, and I'm certain people have been killed by birds of prey before. I'm not disputing that at all. What bothered me was it didn't seem like the best and most fool-proof way to assassinate someone. It's a neat idea on paper, but quite a hassle to actually execute, and there has to be a better, swifter, and more succinct way of doing away with someone.

Writing Style: The style of these stories has never done anything for me. It't movie-ish and modern - doesn't at all fit the era - and would belong better in a spy novel than a Victorian mystery. And I am, quite honestly, getting really tired of Crowe's Texan accent.

Content: None.

Conclusion: It was actually a lot less ridiculous and action-packed than previous installments. And that is not a complaint. And I really, really do like the concept of Paradol Chamber; I look forward to seeing them in later books. However, because the Paradol Chamber's members have a bad and cliche tendency to monologue, they aren't nearly as scary as they could be. That little chat in the cafe they have with Sherlock? It was an extremely convenient place for the Author to easily explain all of the little nigglies to his Readers, and that isn't good. One should never have a Q&A session between protagonist and antagonist for the sole purpose of answering all of the little nigglies, because it is so obvious. There were a couple of twists that I wasn't wholly expecting - [Spoiler] Mr. Wormersley's betrayal [End spoiler] - but there were others that were obvious from the beginning - [Spoiler] the theatre troupe's involvement [End spoiler]. As a whole, Black Ice was a small improvement when it came to villains and plot from the other books, but it nearly killed my Sherlockianism to read this book; it really did. As a normal Reader I enjoyed the plot, but as a Sherlockian I was gnashing my teeth.

Recommended Audience: Girl-and-guy read, fourteen and up, fans of mysteries, Alex Rider, and Sherlockian fiction that is anything but accurate.

Others in the Young Sherlock Holmes Series:
1)Death Cloud
2)Rebel Fire
3)Black Ice
4)Fire Storm
5)Snake Bite

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