“When I left London in 1878, I intended never to return.”
I’d never heard the term ‘wingfic’ until the afterword of this novel, where the author informs us that The Angel of the Crows ‘started’ life as wingfic of Sherlock Holmes. Started? It’s well written, it’s pleasurable enough to read, but AotC is absolutely a fan fiction retelling of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories – with added supernatural elements.
It does work, in the main. This is a world filled with angels – Nameless, or named after a building they patronise – as well as werewolves, vampires, and many more. Our Great Detective is a semi-outcast angel, explaining his social awkwardness and obsession with solving mysteries as something to do. His new flatmate and our narrator is Dr JH Doyle, a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan where he was almost killed by a Fallen angel. We get to read about their meeting and growing friendship, against the background of some very familiar mysteries.
And that’s my main problem: it’s not a mystery when you’ve read the original or seen countless adaptations. The first case is not only completely familiar, but the supernatural elements barely seem to affect anything. That does change as the cases continue – the Hound of the Baskervilles has a different mood in a world where werewolves and hellhounds are part of society! – but it takes its time to expand the ‘new’ bits of the world. Throwing in the Jack the Ripper case was, shall we say, a bold choice and not one I’m sure could be resolved enough to bring any satisfaction – and missed opportunity not to show a link with the paranormal elements.
The real meat of the tale is the relationship between Holm- urm, Crow and Doyle, and that’s done well, with a few twists along the way. I would have liked a lot more exploration of the unique factors of the world: what’s the real difference between vampires and haemophages? Are hellhounds born or made? What precipitated the angels being on Earth, and what are the different kinds really about? It’s all background, not wholly explored for the reader, which felt like a missed chance to focus on perhaps more interesting elements?
Overall, I did enjoy the read but it’s not without its limitations and frustrations. That the author is passionate about the topic is clear, and that in itself makes for a decent read. Still, I wasn’t expecting fan-fic, however well written, and I think this will go down as quirky rather than standing out. I could perhaps see a sequel that expands the more novel elements – and I’d read that in a flash.
NetGalley eARC: 448 pages / 33 chapters
First published: 2020
Read from 30th May – 22nd June 2020
My rating: 7/10