Why You Need to Read: “Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche”

Enola Holmes, #7: Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche

By: Nancy Springer

Published: August 31, 2021

Genre: Mystery/Historical Fiction/Children’s Fiction

NOTE: This post is part of the Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche Blog Tour hosted by Wednesday Books & Minotaur Books.

…Mycroft came to much the same conclusions I had already reached:

Enola did not need protection.

Enola did not need to go to finishing school.

Nor did Enola need to be married off. Indeed, heaven help any man who might be so unwary as to wed her, (Prologue).

Spinoffs; these are not unknown to anyone who participates in pop culture. In fact, there was a time when the majority of the public were getting annoyed with them. It could be argued that the annoyance came about because some of the spinoffs became too distant from the original series, and it could not stand out on its own. That being said, there have been numerous spinoffs of books, of movies and TV shows, of video games, etc., in which a few of them became just as successful as the original variant. The Enola Holmes series by Nancy Springer is the spinoff series of the Sherlock Holmes books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—which, similar to several other readers, I didn’t know this series existed until the movie was released on Netflix—is one of those series. And, if you’ve never heard of this series before now, then know that the latest book in the series—Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche—is a great place to start reading them.

Enola Holmes is 15 years-old and she is the younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes. After a series of mischief and misadventures, Enola is settled in her apartment in London and is living independently. When she receives a summons from Dr. Watson about her brother, Sherlock, Enola meets Miss Letitia Glover—who hires Detective Holmes to investigate her twin sister’s, Flossie’s, “death.” Enola and Sherlock go their separate ways to solve the case—using similar methods and techniques. While Enola works on the case alone, she is not without assistance. Enola knows her friend, Viscount Tewkesbury, Marquess of Basilwether a.k.a. “Tewky,” and his family will provide Enola with a “recommendation” upon request. Enola is spirited and versatile with an intellect that rivals her older brothers’. Not to mention, Enola is allowed to be herself during a time when societal norms are restricted in the U.K.

The plot involves the latest case to be presented to Sherlock Holmes. A woman refuses to believe her twin sister is dead. When a letter presents potential proof the sister could still be alive, both Sherlock and Enola take the case together. Sherlock leaves to solve it his way, and Enola leaves to solve it in her way. From here, readers learn how Enola goes about solving mysteries: interviewing witnesses, disguising herself and using an alias, breaking into people’s houses, etc. There are moments when Enola collaborates with Sherlock on both the clues and the facts they collected in order to solve the case. There is one subplot in this novel, and it is about how Enola carries herself during an era when females had limited rights. Enola is able to “behave like a lady” while expressing herself the way she wants to without too much pushback. The plot goes at an appropriate rate and the subplot elevates it. 

The narrative is in 1st person in Enola’s point-of-view and through her stream-of-consciousness as the reader(s) follow Enola’s actions and thoughts. Enola is a reliable character, and one of the reasons for this is because of her vulnerability. Enola is a young woman who lives for herself, but she is humble enough to ask for help from her family and her friends whenever she needs it. The narrative is presented in a way that is can be followed easily. 

The style Nancy Springer uses for her latest Enola Holmes novel is part mystery and part historical fiction. Unlike the original Sherlock Holmes books—which, were written as contemporary stories—Enola Holmes emphasizes the late Victorian Era throughout the narrative. Then mention of clothes and methods of transportation are huge indicators for the readers of this book (series) that the story takes place more than 100 years ago. In addition, this story delves into how women were viewed—and, at times, abused—by the men in society during that time. Although Queen Victoria’s reign was a powerful one, the rest of the females in her Empire were not treated with the same respect. The mood in this novel is concealment. From when the client arrives with her case to Sherlock and Enola, something feels off about it, almost like someone is trying to hide something or someone. The tone revolves around the unraveling of the mystery, which is as jumbled and as questionable as the steps taken for the concealment. It should be mentioned that the book’s cover displays Enola Holmes resembling the actress, Millie Bobby Brown—who portrayed the character in the movie.  

The appeal for Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche will be very high, and not just because of the recent success of the movie—Enola Holmes—on Netflix (I’m guessing the movie is based on the 1st book in the series). The book not only provides a fun mystery story for middle grade readers, but also is an excellent homage to the original Sherlock Holmes books. Fans of mystery—such as myself—will want to consider reading this book and the rest of the series because this spinoff series includes the deductive thinking and logic the infamous Sherlock Holmes is known for, and because all of the known characters from that series—Sherlock Holmes, John Watson, M.D., and Mrs. Hudson—all appear in the story. Since this is a children’s book, it can (and should) be read in schools. Even though I haven’t heard of the series before now, it does have lasting appeal. I should mention that I watched the movie AFTER reading this book, and the pacing and the characters are straight from the page to the screen.

Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche is not only the latest book in a series known to some readers, but also an excellent continuation of a spinoff series with a protagonist who is related to the world’s most famous detective. And, while the narrative presents a darker societal practice, it remains a fun mystery story both for children and for adults. I find it hilarious that Sherlock Holmes has a kid sister who is just like him! I’m looking forward to reading Enola’s next adventure.

My Rating: Enjoy It (4 out of 5). 

Thank you to Wednesday Books, Minotaur Books and Nancy Springer for sending me a print ARC of this book!

Why You Need to Read: “The Bear and the Nightingale”

Winternight Trilogy, #1: The Bear and the Nightingale

By: Katherine Arden

Published: January 10, 2017

Genre: Fantasy/Historical Fiction/Folklore/Magic Realism/Coming-of-Age

            Vasya’s head hurt with thinking. If the domovoi wasn’t real, then what about the others? The vodyanoy in the river, the twig-man in the trees? The rusalka, the polevik, the dvorovoi? Had she imagined them all? Was she mad? (11: Domovoi).

            Have you ever wondered how or what got you into reading a book or a book series? Oftentimes, we read books due to their popularity or recommendations from other readers. Then, there are times when our curiosity drives us to read a book. For example, the first edition of the U.S. print has a woman standing in front of a cabin in the woods on a snowy night. Add the book’s description and the fact that the ebook was on sale, and you have the short version of how I got into reading The Bear and the Nightingale, the first book in the Winternight Trilogy, and the debut novel by Katherine Arden. 

            The story begins before the protagonist, Vasya, is born. Marina Ivanovna is the wife of Pyotr Vladimirovich, a great lord or a boyar, and they live in the North (of Russia) at the edge of the forest in a town called Lesnaya Zemlya. Marina is the daughter of the last Grand Prince of Moscow, and her mother was rumored to be a swan-maiden who captured the prince’s attention. Yet, due to the fear of the Church, Marina married off to a boyar away from Moscow, where she bore her husband many children. When her youngest, Vasilisa was born, she died, but Marina always knew that Vasya would have the same “Gift” her mother had. Vasya, the youngest of five children, is raised by her father, her nurse—Dunya—and, her siblings: Alyosha, Olga, Sasha and Kolya. Vasya grows into a willful child to the distress of her family. When Vasya is about 5 or 6 years-old, her father travels to Moscow in search of a new wife and he brings his sons with him. By the time the family returns, Anna Ivanovna is with them. Later on, Sasha and Olga will leave Lesnaya Zemlya for Moscow in order to fulfill their duties. Meanwhile, both Vasya and Anna are able to see beings, or chyerti, who occupy the house, the lake, the forest, etc. Anna believes them to be demons, while Vasya talks to them, follows their instructions, and learns from them. At the same time, Father Konstantin Nikonovich—a young and beautiful priest whose talent for painting icons has led to him having a huge following of worshippers—has been sent to Lesnaya Zemlya to replace the priest there that died. As young as she is, Vasya’s antagonists are adults: her stepmother and the new priest, adults who envy and admire Vasya. All of the characters are people who watch Vasya grow from child to adolescent in Russia during a time when Christianity was becoming the dominant religion and when women—especially high-born ones—were expected to follow strict societal guidelines. Vasya, unknowingly, fights these societal expectations and maneuvers her way through them as she approaches adolescence (which, was considered to be adulthood at that time). This puts her at odds with her stepmother and the priest, while becoming allies with the chyerti, fae folk from Russian folklore. 

            The plot in this book sees the upbringing of Vasya and her life in the Russian countryside. Given the circumstances of her existence and her birth, Vasya always had the attention of her family, even if it were for the wrong reasons. Vasya’s father, nurse and siblings see Vasya as a reminder of her mother and her grandmother (based on rumors and gossip). Both Anna and Father Konstantin see Vasya as an individual who goes against the “Rites of the Church,” and seek to “save her soul.” Vasya is an independent girl who communicates with the chyerti (of the old religion) and becomes their ally. Vasya learns the old magic away from the capital, which allows her to carry on without scrutiny. Yet, it seems only Dunya knows how special Vasya is to the chyerti. There are three subplots in this novel. The first is the animosity Anna and Father Konstantin have towards Vasya. Vasya is the willful and carefree daughter of a boyar who listens to the old magic of the chyerti, while her stepmother and the priest try and fail to bring her to heel. The second subplot involves the struggle Russia is dealing with involving pagan versus Christianity amongst the rulers. War is coming, but it is difficult to say who Russia’s adversaries will be. The third subplot follows Vasya’s “Gifts” and what that means for her. Everyone else—her family, the chyerti, her nurse, the priest—seem to know how important Vasya is to the world and their survival, except for Vasya. And, there are powerful beings who are interested in her as well. 

            The narrative in The Bear and the Nightingale is one of an erziehungsroman, or a novel of upbringing. This is different from an entwicklungsroman (“a novel of—a child’s—character development”) or a bildungsroman (“a coming of age” story) in that the narration follows the protagonist from childhood and focuses on their early life and upbringing. Thus, the sequence of the novel is set in the time of Vasya’s birth to childhood to early adolescence while learning of her family and her upbringing. There are multiple points-of-view and that’s because of the 3rd-person omniscient P.O.V., which allows the reader(s) to know what all of the characters—including the protagonist—are thinking and what their motivations are throughout the story. In addition, the streams-of-consciousness of the characters match the present time sequence of the story. So, not only are all the narrators/characters reliable narrators, but also are understandable because readers are aware of their emotions and their motivations. All of these elements of the narrative make it easy to follow. 

            The style Katherine Arden uses for her debut novel blends folklore and history to present a historical fantasy with elements of Russian folklore. The Bear and the Nightingale is the first book in a trilogy based on the story of Vasilisa the Beautiful. At the same time, the historical context allows for the story to be “more believable,” so that terminology and the word choice used throughout the narrative embellishes the story and presents the reality within the fiction and demonstrates the culture of Russia’s past. The mood in this novel is dominance. Who has control of whom? Who is the dominant one in a household, in a region, in a kingdom? Is there a dominant religion? The tone in the novel is rebellion. Vasya is not the only character who rebels against societal expectations set upon her. Then again, the other characters and the reader(s) witness what happens to those who allow others to make choices for them. Please note: the glossary will help with understanding the context of the words and the terms used throughout the novel. 

            The appeal for The Bear and the Nightingale have been positive. It’s hard to believe that this is the author’s debut novel. Katherine Arden was even nominated for the John W. Campbell Award—now called, the Astounding Award for Best New Writer—which is announced during the Hugo Awards. The popularity of this book will have readers thinking of authors such as Madeline Miller and Marion Zimmer Bradley for retelling stories of myths, legends and fairy tales. This book does have lasting appeal and it is a great addition to the speculative fiction canon. Fans of Spinning Silver, Gods of Jade and Shadow, The Sisters of the Winter Wood, The Poppy War, Empire of Sand, and The City of Brass will enjoy this book the most. The rest of the trilogy—The Girl in the Tower and The Winter of the Witch—are worth reading as well. 

            The Bear and the Nightingale is a brilliant debut novel that introduces many readers to Russian folklore through the historical world-building and the rounded characters. The story is the beginning of Vasya’s life and her adventures, and all of the elements of fairy tales of older variants (i.e. “the price of deals”) are found within this book as well. This book will make readers crave winter and snow, and will know the beauty and the magic found in one’s backyard. The old magic has not been forgotten. 

My Rating: MUST READ IT NOW (5 out of 5)!!!