Hobbies are important. At least, that is my excuse when I hole up somewhere in the house with a book and tell everyone to leave me alone for an hour or four. One of the worst things about being worried is that I cannot get into the world of the book I’m trying to read when my mind is so occupied by my life. The opposite is also true – when I am in “book world,” pesky little things like making dinner, folding laundry and dealing with my children are real impositions! But I digress…we were talking about hobbies. I have three main ones: reading, eating, and talking. I need to re-develop an active hobby or I will be required to take up the dreaded one: shopping for larger sizes.
Today, however, reading is on the forefront because I am finally getting to read the latest installment in one of my favorite series: Garment of Shadows by Laurie R. King. It is a Sherlock Holmes pastiche and I adore it. The main character is Mary Russell and she is wonderful: brilliant, sarcastic, capable, and nerdy. My favorite. You should check it out – the first book in the series is The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. Let me first assure all the purists that I love Sherlock in his original, late-Victorian, Conan-Doyle-ian iteration. His intellect and interpersonal skills are equally chilling and Watson is a wonderful foil. But let’s be honest, those stories are about his brilliance and his cases – not about a person. Tiny glimpses of personal details float enticingly through the canon, but the reader is left to piece them together independently. I think that is precisely why so many modern writers, movie-makers, actors, and tv executives are willing and eager to try their hands at interpreting his character. There is so much “scope for the imagination” (thank you LM Montgomery and Anne Shirley) in Holmes. King’s Holmes (and Russell, because I can’t really separate the two in my mind) very well may be my overall favorite version. I also love her Watson, Mycroft and Mrs. Hudson. In truth, they aren’t really separated from the originals by anything but time. King’s books are set in the early part of the 20th century, so everyone is older, wiser and some are a bit more mellow. And most importantly for me – a self-proclaimed, unrepentant people-person – the books are about the people. There are wonderful characters throughout the series, with the most wonderful of all being Holmes and Russell. I mean, a late-middle-aged beekeeping retired private inquiry agent who hates mysticism in all forms and disdains all but a few women meets a teen-aged know-it-all female half-American Jewish religious scholar who gives him back his disdain with interest when he mistakes her for a boy. (I know, no commas. I didn’t like the way they looked. Sue me.) And that’s the beginning of the first book. It gets better. Lots better. Read it. Read them all!
As I look over the characteristics that I enjoy in the main character (because I do edit, just not always well), I am aware that they fit many of my favorite people in literature. Brilliance, capability, humor – they are alluring traits. Don’t we all wish we could find a job or a calling to which we are ideally suited and then have the resources to follow that calling to wherever it may lead us? Okay, maybe that’s just me. It’s a latent superhero fantasy, I guess. That is probably why the Urban Fantasy genre has really appealed to me. Talk about a snarky, nerdy, brilliant, uber-capable bunch of characters! For books full of shapeshifters, mythological creatures, monsters and magic users who are wielding their powers in modern or even post-apocalyptic landscapes my favorites are Patricia Briggs, Ilona Andrews, Seanan McGuire, Jim Butcher, Rob Thurman and Kevin Hearne. Though I am always looking for new favorites to add to the bunch. I mean, what’s not to like about werewolves, coyotes, lions, boudas, the Fae and the Sidhe, wizards who could populate a Dashiell Hammett book, ninjas, aufe and druids? This is not Middle Earth, people, though I love that too…. Seriously though, I think the fantasy part is fun, and I love learning more about the world’s various mythologies through these books, but that’s not why the grab me and don’t let go. The thing I really identify with is what I mentioned before – most of these books are about characters who are outcasts finding a place where they fit. It’s about using the skills that make them freaks and finding out that they’re actually heroes. It is the ultimate coming of age; finding out what they want to be when they grow up. Finding out that, like it or not, they are grown up, that life is full of hard choices and that we can only do what we can do. “Just once I want it to be easy and neat. But no, there’s never a good decision. I pick what I can live with.” (Magic Burns, Ilona Andrews). The thing that makes it fiction, though? It all works out in the end. I love that. I can identify with the tough choices and with the frustration of deciding between the lesser of “no, not that.” But in book world, I get a happy ending. I’m glad life’s not over…but it does preclude “happily ever after.”