It’s funny what reputation can do: if you’d handed me A Study in Honor knowing nothing except what’s in the blurb, I’d probably have told you that I’m not really into near-future dystopian political thrillers, even one that’s re-visioning of Holmes and Watson featuring two queer black women. But tell me that [author I love] is coming out with a new series under a new nom de plume and I’ll give anything she writes a try. I would have missed out on a great book if I’d gone just by my usual genre and setting preferences.
O’Dell has created two strong personalities with just enough of their literary antecedents that you know what your getting in terms of interpersonal dynamic. One has clawed her way up from a working class background, one was born of privilege. One is damaged to the edge of breaking by her experiences in the war, one is smooth and polished and always so very much in control. But you believe that these two can be thrown together, can survive the initial distrust and conflict, and can begin to forge what we recognize as the enduring Holmes/Watson partnership that has made its way into legend. As with the original canon, we see the events through Watson’s eyes, leaving the internal workings of Holmes’s mind (and her backstory) enough of a mystery to be intriguing.
I’m not going to lie about the setting: the line that can be drawn between where were are today and the terrifying vision the book offers of political turmoil and civil war is too believable to be enjoyable. The tech is just the far side of futuristic but the sociology is entirely too familiar. But the story is about human beings and how they make it through, first and foremost by caring about truth, honor, and each other. And that makes all the difference in envisioning how we might recover from such a future.
The icing on the cake is that both protagonists are casually and unapologetically queer without needing to insert a romance plot into the dynamic. I long for the day when I can pick up any random book and consider that a possibility. Until then, I’ll always be seeking out books like this that combine representation with rock-solid writing.