by Katherine Addison
“I know losing your name isn’t as disastrous for you as it would be for one of us. But it still seems terrible to me that all of these women, either nobody noticed they were gone, or nobody cared enough to go to the police and tell them the dead woman’s name.”
The Angel of the Crows is set in a fantasy 1880s England where angels and demons, werewolves and vampires, all are real. But so too are the depravities of mankind, and an all too human serial killer is stalking London’s East End, preying on the vulnerable women who reside there. Guardian angels protect churches and public houses and train stations, but no angel can protect the streets, or claim an entire city. But the Angel of the Crows, who sometimes styles himself the Angel of London, is determined to try, even if it makes him a pariah among his own kind. Meanwhile, Dr. J.H. Doyle has returned from Afghanistan with a secret, following a near-death encounter with the Fallen, former angels who have lost their names. When Dr. Doyle takes up rooming with Crow, unable to afford London living alone on his meagre pension, he finds himself pulled into Crow’s cases and discovers a new sense of purpose.
Unique among angels, Crow is not bound to a single habitation, nor has he slipped back into the ranks of the Nameless or become one of the dreaded Fallen. Crow is a contradiction of a character who both understands humans intimately enough to deduce their motivations, and yet is baffled by certain social conventions and mores. Doyle is more worldly, however he is still grappling with ableism and self-hatred, disgusted by the infirmity of his war wound but unwilling to seek out a aetheric practitioner for fear of his secret being exposed. Together they make approximately one fully functional detective, albeit still very much in need of the services of their landlady and her kitchen staff for day-to-day sustenance.
The book opens with two epigraphs, one from the BBC’s Sherlock, and the other from the Arthur Conan Doyle canon. In episode three of the second season, “The Reichenbach Fall,” Sherlock says “I may be on the side of the angels, but don’t think for one second that I am one of them.” But as the author’s note at the end of the book acknowledges, this book “began as a Sherlock wingfic.” Crow and Doyle are, of course, the analogues for Sherlock and Watson. The majority of the secondary characters, from Inspector Lestrade to Mary Morstan, retain their canonical names. The novel is no racier than the Victorian source material, but Addison does lightly explore gender and sexuality, if perhaps not in the ways that you might be expecting if you’re a Johnlock shipper.
The Angel of the Crows interleaves the Whitechapel Murders with the traditional Sherlock Holmes cases, some of which include A Study in Scarlett and The Hound of the Baskervilles. Katherine Addison mixes in some supernatural elements, but keeps human grievances and motivations at the core. The Whitechapel Murders have been added as a connecting throughline with middling success. Crow has empathy for the women killed by the Whitechapel Murderer, particularly when they are nameless and friendless, unidentified. It is perilously close to the dissolution of a Nameless angel that has lost its habitation. But while there was empathy, there was little nuance or humanity added for these women, and the final resolution—in which Crow and Doyle catch the murderer—felt rushed and anticlimactic.
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