Warlock Holmes - The Sign of Nine by G.S. Denning

I would like to thank Sarah from Titan for an advance copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review

Publisher – Titan

Published – Out Now

Price - £7.99 paperback

Warlock Holmes may have demons in his head, but now Dr John Watson has a mummy in his bloodstream. Specifically, that of the sorcerer Xantharaxes, who, when shredded and dissolved in a seven percent solution, produces some extremely odd but useful prophetic dreams. There’s also the small matter of Watson falling for yet another damsel-du-jour, and Warlock deciding that his companion needs some domestic bliss.

Sherlock Holmes is one of literature’s most intriguing characters. An unusual character, the mystical art of deduction and the entire world of Victorian London with all layers of society created something so vivid that it works for us even today. You can twist to the US, the modern era and in G S Denning’s latest instalment of their series a magical London of demons and spells but with a heavy dose of humour on top of the mix.

This was my first exposure to Warlock Holmes, but the novel helpfully gives you a summary of where Holmes and Watson have been up to and quickly underlines the differences from the books you may know.  The biggest difference is that here Holmes is less the deductive genius and more a magical sorcerer who can enter dreams, use spells and demons to get results. Watson however here is more the deductive partner (to Holmes’ astonishment) but still full of humour. Add in a vampiric Lestrade and you’ll soon a very different tale.

This novel comprises an interesting mix of short stories and a novella with a few running themes but can be read largely standalone.  Several of these are Watson wandering in dreams and seeing the lives of two infamous adversaries; Irene Adler and Professor Moriarty.  They’re not the crux of the mysteries in the novel but again show huge differences – both skilled in magic plus Irene was Moriarty’s ward! The other part of the adventures is a series of magical mysteries that Holmes and Watson get sucked into. If you are familiar with your Holmes you may recognise tales where Napoleon statues get smashed, ancient legends and noble bachelors are getting a unique treatment. Denning clearly loves their use of the original stories. Its all done with affection but intriguingly not a direct pastiche.

What I think works best is Denning has given us a different Watson.  Far less endearing on Holmes and more likely to be exasperated that he is being drugged or attempted to be fed away. Watson is more likely to be sarcastic about the adventures and the great sorcerer he lives with. The London is paints is more comic, less venerated and dials more towards comical dialogue where the level of stupidity between all the characters makes for amusing discourse. In this book we get lots of slapstick humour and a running joke about a poor detective who dies and must be continually resurrected. These tales are very energetic and the gusto and actual love for the world comes out that I did find making me smile a lot reading through it.  The bite-size nature of most of the tales makes it a nice compartmentalised read and no story feels like it has overstayed it’s welcome.  Intriguingly Denning sometimes avoids going for the obvious joke and sometimes you get unusual scenes of brutal murders, lovesick monsters and a particularly eerie trip into a long-lived alien. That mix of stories I think make this a successful anthology and I like that Denning is prepared to shift styles to suit the type of story they want to tell as an endless series of short one-note comic adventures in the same vein would have been wearisome. This reflects Doyle’s ability to move from dark to light really well and it’s a nimbleness that many comedy parodies don’t have.

I think it would work as a good place to introduce you to Denning’s weird world and his unusual take on the characters. I would warn you that the humour is more like early Pratchett with a focus on set-up and more comical characters and I would like to have seen just a little more character focus or look at the world and the issues of Victorian London although there are snide digs at the racism and sexism of the era.. But overall for a light-hearted engaging read that does something very different with Homes and does it successfully I think this may be just the thing to relieve a hard day.