***Thanks very much to the author for reaching out to me to review his newest novel!***
Sherlock Holmes and the Nine-Sigil Dragon
By: Tim Symonds
It’s the year 1906. Rumours abound that a deadly plot is hatching – not in the fog-ridden back-alleys of London’s Limehouse district or the sinister Devon moors of the Hound of the Baskervilles but in faraway Peking. Holmes’s task – discover whether such a plot exists and if so, foil it. But are the assassins targeting the young and progressive Ch’ing Emperor or his imperious aunt, the fearsome Empress Dowager Cixi? The murder of either could spark a civil war. The fate of China and the interests of Britain’s vast Empire in the Orient could be at stake. Holmes and Watson take up the mission with their customary confidence – until they find they are no longer in the familiar landscapes of Edwardian England. Instead, they tumble into the Alice In Wonderland world of the Forbidden City. – Goodreads
Sherlock Holmes is everywhere now. He has been reinterpreted for the big screen and in television, modernized to the 21st century and even so much time after still capturing the hearts of a lot of readers. It is suffice to say that Arthur Conan Doyle created a beyond iconic character and investigative team with Sherlock and Dr.Watson. I feel that I need to justify that I have ONLY read The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and none of the other stories. I just never got around to it. Especially when it also happens to be the first book review I did here and needs revision so much. To say that I know the Sherlock Holmes character well via literature is a huge stretch but I feel that most of Holmes books are rather case by case so lets just jump right in.
Tim Symonds has written a few of these Sherlock Holmes follow-up novels building his own cases. I have not read them but I do feel it incredibly coincidental that he happens to set me up with this one which is set in China back in the Empress Dowager days. Perfect setting and great use of historic characters. Empress Dowager and the emperor at the time along with her renowned and powerful eunuch and all these colorful characters in history makes for a great story. The mysteries in the Forbidden Palace however for myself was not so well concealed because I did grow up with a lot of this Chinese history material and I had suspected the who quite early in the story.
Sherlock Holmes and the Nine Sigil Dragon however does have a great writing. The more classical English is always fun to read. It is a change in pace (especially for myself) and there are much less frequently used words which may require a dictionary to grasp but the context is always on track. The writing captures what I remember Sherlock and Dr. Watson’s dynamic together. However, the pacing leaves a little to be desired. A strong start is always tricky and yet while I did enjoy the story when it picked up a few chapters in, the trip to China at the start felt a little slow. It might be the process of getting used to reading the most sophisticated writing (which is a high probability).
Going back to the characters, I feel that the need to show the interest in English and how they did speak it broken or not was a little unnecessary. The characters themselves goes without saying that we can assume who they are. Perhaps because I do speak Chinese that it became bothersome to have to read the same words in their romanized Mandarin form while also reading it with the English term. It felt a little like a Chinese lesson. However, it does come into context. Little nitpicks on my part. Also, this world is complicated. The Forbidden City and the ranks and their characters and the traditions and formalities are all depicted quite well. My suggestion to those that plan on reading this: make use of the glossary in the back because it will has a great purpose even to deeper understand what certain things mean.
In fact, even for myself, growing up outside of China, there are little details that I wasn’t aware of or just sometimes slips my mind. In those moments, when the mystery and the investigation starts going more in depth. The pieces start falling together. I always love the deciphering the case and what happens because that is when the details really come together perfectly and the author has done a great job in doing so. The mystery is fun. It uses and respects a lot of the history and the nature of these characters and the complexities behind the walls of Forbidden City and the politics of the entire situation.
Overall, Sherlock Holmes and the Nine-Sigil Dragon is a good read. It dives into Chinese history and enters into the Forbidden City, bringing to life some of the iconic historic people that actually was a big deal. The mystery itself is feasible and the writing is done very well. While, the beginning could have been paced better and there were small things in the charaterization that left a little to be desired, the story works well once it picks up and offers a great mystery to solve.