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Laurie R. King – A Monstrous Regiment of Women

June 9, 2016

King, Laurie R - A Monstrous Regiment of Women - 4008. A Monstrous Regiment of Women by Laurie R. King (1995)
Mary Russell, Book 2

Read my review of book:
1. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice

Read By: Jenny Sterlin
Length: 11h 46min (304 pages)

Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Started: 01 February 2016
Finished: 06 February 2016

Where did it come from? Audible.
Why do I have it? I really liked the first book in the series.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 20 January 2016.

Feminism: yay!
Using murder to reach your
goals: not cool, ladies.

Summary: Mary Russell, recently graduated from Oxford with a degree in theology and newly come into her inheritance, remains as an apprentice to the retired detective Sherlock Holmes. But Holmes is a forceful and magnetic personality, and Mary decides to take a step back to protect her heart. She looks up some old friends, and through one of them is introduced to the New Temple of God. Its leader, Margery Childe, is a charismatic suffragette with some revolutionary ideas about women’s place in society and in religion, and Mary is instantly drawn to her quick mind and compelling ideas. But soon she learns that several members of Margery’s inner circle have died in mysterious accidents over the past few years… shortly after each of them had changed their will. Can Mary solve this puzzle on her own, or has she already gotten herself in too deep?

Review: Okay, first things first, the title of this book is confusing as heck. It comes from John Knox’s The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, a quote from which provides the epigraph, and it is noted that “regiment” here is used in the old sense of “regime”. So this title is emphatically NOT about a marching army of lady monsters, which I am not too proud to admit is what came to mind the first time I saw it. But what it is about, and what the whole book is about, is feminism, and the reactions to women in power. Every chapter starts with a short epigraph from some historical source, and most of them are about how weak and ill-suited women are for anything than poppin’ out babies. Judging by the seemingly endless supply of these quotes, these are beliefs that have been prevalent through most of recorded history, and are still unfortunately haunting us today. (I should point out that the book does not *believe* these epigraphs; this is clearly a book and a series that believes that women are the equals of men.) But what the quotes are doing, at least in my case, is fanning an outrage that smoldered through the entire rest of the story, that women had to deal with this nonsense, and that almost a hundred years after this story is set, we are STILL having to deal with this nonsense. So I spent a lot of my time listening to this book being seriously pissed off and simultaneously really enjoying the story, which was a strange experience.

I love Mary as a narrator – she’s smart and she knows that she’s smart and she’s proud that she’s smart, and that’s just great to read. The story of her and of her growing fascination with Margery and her church was really the core of the story; the mystery is in the background for a fair chunk of the book, although of course things start unfolding faster towards the end, making for some very exciting and tense scenes. Although, in general, for being a detective story, there’s not a lot of detecting, and Sherlock himself isn’t in a fair chunk of the book – or, at least, he’s only there by the shadow he casts, and the effects even his absence has on Mary’s life.

Another main theme in this book is the relationship between the two of them, and how it develops now that Mary has grown up, and can hold her own as a equal partner, rather than as a student. I’m not a Holmes purist; while I like Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of the man as essentially asexual, I am entirely willing to accept an interpretation where Holmes is attracted to intellects that can keep up with his own (which are, unsurprisingly, rare.) Thus, the romance angle in this story didn’t bother me, and was actually kind of sweet. Mary’s perspective, certainly, feels entirely natural, and for the most part I can buy that Holmes would eventually reciprocate despite their age gap. (Although he has one line of “I’ve wanted to do that since the first time I laid eyes on you” – which: she was 15, dude! Implying that he was physically attracted to Mary (who, let’s not forget, was dressed as a boy when they first met) before he was mentally attracted to Mary does make the whole thing grosser/creepier than I think it necessarily needed to be.)

Overall, though, I really enjoyed this book. (A fact which is probably clear from the fact that I tore through an 11+ hour book in less than a week.) A few times it referred to something that I don’t remember happening in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, which made me wonder if I’d missed or forgotten something, or if Mary was intentionally referencing something that happened between the end of the first book and the beginning of this one. The narrator is good – sometimes she reads a little slowly for my taste, but I think she gets the tone of Mary’s narration exactly right (and Audible’s got a 1.25x speed button, which is a lifesaver!) So: characters: great; story: interesting; perspective: DAMN RIGHT YOU GET IT GIRLS!; audiobook: very enjoyable listening. I’ll definitely be seeking out the next book in the series. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Although there are a number of references made to previous events, I think there’s enough background given about who Mary is, and what her relationship is to Sherlock for this story to work independently. (Although The Beekeeper’s Apprentice is so good that I can’t in good conscience recommend skipping it!) But this series (and this book in particular) should appeal to mystery fans who appreciate a different (and female!) perspective on the world’s greatest detective.

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First Line: I sat back in my chair, jabbed the cap onto my pen, threw it into the drawer, and abandoned myself to the flood of satisfaction, relief and anticipation that was let loose by that simple action.

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