They met at Eton, the most prestigious school for boys in all of England. Sherlock Holmes came from a fine, country home and his analytical mind was ripe for all the lessons Eton had to teach him. By contrast, Dragos Covenu gained entry by the blood money of his ne’er-do-well Roma father and loved nothing so much as the kind of learning that can be had by following one’s heart. Sherlock and Dragos were drawn together, attracted by these very differences and bound by one commonality—a romantic interest in boys.
Though they grew apart after Dragos was kicked out of Eton, their paths continued to cross intermittently for years. As Holmes began establishing himself as the preeminent detective in all of England, Dragos was content to explore his heart’s desire. Yet there was no denying that the relationship that bloomed between the two was powerful stuff. Now that Dragos is back in London after a long absence—sent to the literal ends of the earth because of Homes’ seeming inability to accept all of Dragos—he is ready to try again. Perhaps this time, Dragos can make Holmes acknowledge the depth of his feelings for him.
However, there is a storm brewing that will test the strength of feeling that keep Holmes and Dragos orbiting one another. Old enemies come looking for Dragos and his cousin Anca, looking for vengeance. As Holmes does his utmost to protect Dragos, he also unknowingly orchestrates yet another opportunity for Dragos to satisfy his need for passionate displays of love in the arms of others. Though Holmes has long suspected Dragos’ infidelity, when proof of it finally becomes known to Holmes, things start to crumble between them.
Holmes confronts Dragos about his philandering, but seems willing to set aside the differences if only to keep Dragos in his life. Dragos, on the other hand, has had enough of forever play acting at what Holmes desires. In fact, he takes decisive actions that has surely ruined their decades long on-again, off-again romance and even the very fabric of their association.
So, this was a very interesting story. It is very clearly a re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes. It goes far beyond simply recreating a single case and spans a far greater number of details that Doyle covers in his stories. Cassady prepares the reader for this by comparing the storytelling to Downton Abbey. I can concur with this assessment. Thrown into the enticing give-and-take we see between Holmes and Dragos is an expansive cast of side characters who weave in and out of the myriad story lines in very interesting ways.
There are two notable female characters, Dragos’ cousin Anca and a side-character whose role developed into a full-fledged supporting character named Molly. These two, after a very long and winding ride through the story’s rather dense plot, end up having a bit of a romance—but it occurs later in the story, so I’m not sure if this is more along the lines of a dalliance or a true romance. What I most enjoyed about the Anca character was seeing her transform from a side character who sort of popped up in multiple scenes into one who subtly (but also sort of overtly) challenges gender norms. She’s introduced as a stunning beauty with long hair, but after killing a man and returning to her people in Romania, decides to chop off her hair and take on the dress of men (its unclear if this is a true preference switch or just for the sake of travel, but still). She’s also decided she’s interested in women as lovers and learns that she’s rather like Dragos in her approach to relationships (rather open).
Now, the dynamic between Holmes and Dragos was very interesting and kept me turning pages. On the one hand, I am “biased” in favor of Holmes because I’ve read a lot of Doyle and appreciate the cold aloofness that he represents to me in my head canon. Being so established made it easy for me to sympathize with Holmes whenever he and Dragos got into lover’s quarrels. That said, Dragos is often the narrator (the POV switches among Holmes, Dragos, Watson, Anca, and Molly in first person, though). Naturally, I developed an affinity for Dragos because his vary narration makes the reader privy to his thoughts and feelings. The biggest beef between Holmes and Dragos is that Dragos questions whether Holmes does or ever could truly love all of Dragos—Holmes is guilty of encouraging Dragos to suppress his cross-dressing habit and of often/always wanting Dragos to role play the part of a villain when they get intimate. I absolutely loved watching how these differences in what both men expected/wanted played out. There was such great angst. And when it all blew up in their faces (with still about 50 or 60 pages to go!) I was curious what that would mean.
I’ll admit, after Holmes and Dragos seem to officially break it off…I was a bit less interested in the various independent story lines that did not concern them, though they served to round out the characters and establish complexity that I normally don’t expect to see. However, it all comes to a head right before the end of this first book. So while these threads seems to be showing the characters growing apart, there comes up a threat that spurs Holmes and Dragos into action and throwing them back into each other’s spheres. Unfortunately, the book ends just there. So it’s impossible to tell if the revelations Holmes and Dragos had had while they both assumed their romance and friendship was utterly caput mean they can finally accept one another; I am eager to find out in the next book.
The one big weakness in the story, and it may annoy more careful readers than I, were the inconsistencies that peppered the book. In addition to a few continuity errors that placed a character in a scene where they shouldn’t have been, there were significant troubles with placing the action in time. This is perhaps exacerbated by the fact that we start in “present day” and go back to when Holmes and Dragos were at Eton, some twenty years in the past. While some chapters have dates, not all of them do…so it was difficult to know if a particular scene was taking place in their present or in their past. Sometimes, it was hard to keep up with the changes in POV, too. Not all chapters indicated who the speaker was and I found myself once or twice thinking I was in Holmes’ head only to find out it was Dragos’.
Overall, though, this is an exciting read that goes very quickly. The plot is thick with twists and turns. It contains several crimes that are “layered,” in that one is solved quickly and seems to serve as a way to introduce the reader to the characters and how they will interact with one another. The next crime is the bigger plot device in the story and is what drives much of the action. The final is one that you can look for if you reread the book because this crime is perpetrated by a character who appears in many of the characters’ threads, but is not of overt importance until the end…and presumably the star bad guy of the next book.