Book review – A Study in Honor by Claire O’Dell

Joint review

A Study in Honor (The Janet Watson Chronicles, #1)

Caidyn will be in blue – 4/5
Chantel will be in purple – 3.5/5

Wow, we’re finally back here doing this. Feels good, doesn’t it?

Yeah, it does! I mean it took me two months, but I finished a book!

I think that’s a world record somewhere.

I don’t need this.

Fine, fine. I won’t be a little shit. I mean, I’m genuinely happy that we did and are doing this in 2019. I’ve missed reading books with you!

I have too! If we can make it through this year, that will be something. At least we started with a good book!

I completely agree. A Study in Honor has its pros and cons, but, overall, it’s a good book. Obviously, by my rating, I thought it was very good.

Absolutely, it was entertaining and I loved the newest take on Holmes and Watson, one of our favorite duos. I think it could’ve been a lot better, but I did enjoy it.

As I said, pros and cons. But, for a first book — and thinking about the original story, which I hate — it’s a good one. The definite hook for this book is the diversity that’s included by the author.

I think it wrapped up pretty nicely considering there are going to be more books. I don’t have the context of the original story, just the modern adaptation, but I thought it worked. The futuristic American society in the midst of a second Civil War is very interesting to me.

The only context you’re missing is this: Part 1 of the original story (A Study in Scarlet) is about the mystery of Holmes and Watson meeting then tracking down a killer. Part 2 and you’re suddenly in Mormon America. Very random. Every single time I reread it, it jars me. But, I think we need to back up with this book a little bit. It’s a futuristic America, rather than Britain, and a second Civil War is going on, but the main characters are both queer black women. Sherlock Holmes is now Sara Holmes and John Watson is now Janet Watson. And, Janet is ex-military, however, she lost her arm rather than an ambiguous gunshot to leg/arm (Doyle forgot where Watson was shot and used both in stories) and is now making adjustments to her new life.

Yes, that is very random. But the reason I wanted to read this book was because both Holmes and Watson are queer black women. I mean, that pretty much checks off all my boxes. I really enjoyed the dynamic between the two women and their friendship was built up very well. I think, for me, that was the most enjoyable part of the book. The two characters were well written and their relationship was well thought out.

Sara and Janet were also a favorite part of this book. They just felt so real, you know? Sara felt like Sherlock. Not just using the name/legacy, but she really felt the part. But, you add in a beautiful dash of femininity that totally worked. Janet felt like John, too. I loved their relationship and how it toed the line between being platonic or romantic. Janet’s queerness was less ambiguous than Sara’s, though. Janet was on the page gay — or, at least, the only relationship mentioned was with another woman.

I absolutely agree. John is a lot more complex than I think people give him credit for and Janet was well written and as nuanced as her counterpart. If this was just a book about queer women or black women, I would’ve loved it as well, but it was about black, queer women which is why I was so excited to read it. However, I had my issues. I know that the race of the author matters a lot to people who read books where the main characters are people of color. This isn’t the case for myself, however, I don’t want to diminish how others feel. Yet, in this book, the fact that both women were black felt forced. It didn’t feel like someone who lived as a black person in America and if there were no mention of Janet’s hair, or Sara’s dreadlocks, or either woman’s skin color it would be easy to assume they were white.

Definitely. I’m a person who really values ownvoices literature because I’m a white guy. Like, c’mon. I would rather read the experiences someone has had because I’ll never get it because that’s not the culture I’m in. So, I’m like Chantel. I loved the diversity, but I felt like American race relations were being whitesplained to me. It wasn’t subtle or nuanced like I felt a black author could do because they know the subtleties that are there. It was very upfront and I was constantly reminded that the characters were black every few pages because, when the author wasn’t doing that, I could easily forget. It was easy to forget the setting of a second Civil War and the race of the characters, which really was annoying for me. It felt genuinely queer, but not genuinely PoC.

I just want to also add that I value ownvoices literature as well, but I wouldn’t have felt right not giving this book a chance because of the author’s race. That’s just my personal decision. It was noticeable, and it took me out of the story multiple times.

I felt the same way. I mean, based on our ratings, we really enjoyed the book. It was just something that was a major distractor from the story. However, I really loved the PTSD rep. It felt so genuine to me and it was so wonderful to read it. It’s not always that you have a queer black woman lose an arm and battle PTSD.

The other downside for me was the way the mystery unfolded in a rushed manner was what lowered my rating ultimately. The first issue was that the mystery didn’t show up until page 200…of a 300-page book. I really enjoyed the setup and the scene of these two characters living in Washington DC at a politically charged time. Specifically post-Trump. The mystery, however, felt very rushed. Everything in the last hundred pages or more could’ve been spread out. If the book had been longer, perhaps the author could’ve taken more time with the mystery. It all seemed to happen so suddenly and then there’s a villain who comes out of nowhere and gets taken down, yet they never physically manifest in the story. I found that extremely frustrating since the mystery was interesting and could’ve been so much more. I would’ve liked it more if more of the book had been dedicated to it.

And to add to Caidyn’s point about PTSD, I too appreciated the way it was handled. It was woven in well with Janet’s character. I appreciated seeing a female go through it because I don’t think we see that often enough.

Yes, definitely. The mystery was very lacking for me. I enjoyed it, but I just wanted more from it. Most of the book was exposition and character building, then, suddenly, there was this mystery that needed to be introduced and summed up in 100 pages. It was lacking and I would have rather read a longer book that really gave me the mystery than a shorter book that left me feeling short-changed.

This book took two characters that I really enjoy and made them into characters I loved. That’s hard to do when those characters have been adapted time and time again. Ultimately, the pacing of the story and the lack of authenticity of the characters is what brought this down for me. To the point where I’m not sold on reading the second book. Maybe my mind will change later, but for now, I like leaving it where it is. I can only hope to see more adaptations similar to this one.

Very well put. I know I’m going to read the sequel and I hope that some of the issues that we talked about here get solved in the second book.


Talk to us!
Have you read this? What did you think?
What Holmes/Watson retellings are you living for?

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