A Study In Sable by Mercedes Lackey

Rating 8.5/10
A fun, clever mash up of Holmes and the supernatural.

One of ten novels in the series that looks at Dr. John Watson, who is an Elemental Master of Water and takes the sort of occult cases his dear friend, Sherlock Holmes refuses to even consider. Though Holmes appears uninterested with the occult and those cases, he does vet Nan and Sarah for him as he wants to work with them on difficult or near impossible cases. Nan is a psychic, while Sarah is a medium and together with their birds, Neville the raven and Grey the parrot, they are four of the most talented investigators around. They even surprise Watson and Holmes with their skills and use of their talents. Grey and Neville are Astral Guardians who have special abilities they can put to use on cases where Nan and Sarah might miss some opportunity to solve them based on their own abilities. As Astral Guardians, Grey and Neville have the ability to be able "to read things about the past of objects by handling them." Watson's current case, the one Holmes dismisses as "twaddle" is of Number 10 Berkeley Square where a dark spirit haunts the place and has already killed several humans.

Enlisting the help of Beatrice, a witch (Earth Magician according to Watson) who asks the local fauns in the park as they are well aware of the goings on at that place for fifty years. Fear seems to strike anyone who knows about Number 10, and no one dare go there.

In A Study in Sable, London is separated into two types of people, those who believe in the occult and those, like Holmes who don't. Lackey could be saying in her story that those who are non believers are far luckier than those who do, as Beatrice has the experience of trying to put off those who want to delve into the occult using drink and dangerous mind-bending drugs, but the effect Number 10 Berkeley Square has on some is enough to make the hair stand on end. Just what the dark spirit at Number 10 is unknown until they do a little digging and come up with history about a people called the Formorians. They were from both Celtic and Greek myth as being composite creatures with the bodies of men and heads of animals, or vice versa. The Egyptians had a similar group with animal heads, though they were gods. These Formorians were supposed to be powerful magicians that could almost destroy the environment they were in.

Watson knows they might not be able to take it on now, but a decent strategy of what to do wouldn't go amiss. Thinking there might be safety in numbers, Nan, Sarah, John and six other friends make up nine who go to Number 10 to try and sort the Formorian out. Trapping the thing in a strongbox sealed with lead, they hope to take it somewhere no one will find it so that London can once again be a peaceful place.

Mercedes Lackey is capable of conjuring up a rich plot with characters who are fun and lifelike - you can almost touch them - the spirits seem as real as the hairs that stand on the back of your neck while you're reading. I like the book cover as much as I liked reading the novel. Jody Lee has shown us a window into Holmes's life, playing his violin in his study while the things he doubts, ghosts, spirits and the afterlife swirl around him. She has weaved them together along with Grey and Neville in a contrast of mauve and orange hues.
Sandra Scholes, 9/10

Psychic Nan Killian and Medium Sarah Lyon-White have been agents of Lord Alderscroft, the Elemental Fire Master known as the Wizard of London, since leaving school. Now, Lord Alderscroft assigns them another commission: to work with the famous man living at 221 Baker Street…

This was my first in the Elemental Masters series by Mercedes Lackey. Being a huge Sherlock Holmes enthusiast I was keen to see a new take on the sleuth. This is set in an alternate world where magic and the supernatural take centre stage, so, you either buy into this premise or not. I took the ride and really enjoyed what was achieved. Sherlock Holmes and Doctor John Watson are present, but the main characters are Nan and Sarah (accompanied by Neville a raven and Grey a parrot). These are fun, colourful and unconventional characters and the dialogue between them sparkled.

There are lots of strong opinions and forceful, vocal protagonists. Throw in the gloomy, foreboding atmosphere and the supernatural, and you have a fresh exciting foray into an alternate world.

What really impressed me was Lackey's plot device of having Nan and Sarah join forces with Doctor John Watson and his wife Mary. They are open to the occult and the spirit world, whereas Holmes is a sceptic and of course only interested in logic and deductive reasoning. Many Holmesians believe that the character of Watson was really a cipher for author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who of course himself was fascinated by spiritualism. This is a neat touch and will win around fans of the consulting detective and his loyal friend. It all rang true for me, and in no way are Lackey's Holmes and Watson unrecognisable from Conan Doyle's.
 
The book is full of contrasts and counterpoints between people as well as vivid descriptions of Edwardian dress, buildings and interior design. It is easy to picture Lackey's world without too much heavy handed exposition. It rolls along at a good pace and there is plenty of incident and conflict to keep you hooked. It was also nice to see the Baker Street Irregulars make an appearance. Overall, this is a fun, clever mash up of Holmes and the supernatural.
Daniel Cann, 8/10

This A Study In Sable book review was written by and Daniel Cann

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