Angel of the Crows

So, you all know that Katherine Addison’s Goblin Emperor is a favorite of mine. You may know she has a new book out, just released, set in an altogether different world.

Here’s the description:

This is not the story you think it is. These are not the characters you think they are. This is not the book you are expecting.

In an alternate 1880s London, angels inhabit every public building, and vampires and werewolves walk the streets with human beings in a well-regulated truce. A fantastic utopia, except for a few things: Angels can Fall, and that Fall is like a nuclear bomb in both the physical and metaphysical worlds. And human beings remain human, with all their kindness and greed and passions and murderous intent.

Jack the Ripper stalks the streets of this London too. But this London has an Angel. The Angel of the Crows.

And here’s a guest post about this book, plus a giveaway, over at Fantasy Book Cafe:

Jack is not the first serial killer, or even the first “modern” serial killer, but he’s the one we remember. There are several reasons for this, but one of the most important ones is his name. Not “the Whitechapel murderer” but “Jack the Ripper.” Someone was very cunning when they came up with that name. It’s short, punchy, imagination-catching. And the idea of a serial killer writing to the newspapers was new.

I will add, from the reviews on Amazon though in no way indicated from the above description, it’s clear that this is essentially a retelling of Sherlock Holmes stories, with renamed main characters plus supernatural elements plus a Jack the Ripper frame story. It’s also clear that WOW THE PUBLISHER SHOULD HAVE SAID SO UP FRONT. A large proportion of early reveiwers were taken by surprise, not in a good way. If you are a Sherlock Holmes fan and know going in that this is a Holmes homage, you will probably like the book much better.

I … am not actually a Sherlock Holmes fan. I read some of the stories in a desultory way many years ago and have never watched any of the modern adaptations. Since Katherine Addison / Sarah Monette wrote this, sure, I’m interested, to a degree, but not remotely enough to pick up the book at the currently high price. For Holmes fans, though, this may be something you at least want to drop on your wishlist.

Also, I have learned a new term: Wingfic is fanfic where important characters are given wings (for any reason). In this story, Sherlock Holmes is “Crow,” an odd type of angel; thus this novel actually started explicitly as Sherlock Holmes wingfic before being adapted into novel form and brought out by a publisher.

I can only think of one other novel that started as fanfic … doubtless there are others … but I am thinking of Barbara Hambly’s Star Trek novel Ishmael, one of my very favorite Star Trek novelizations. Does anybody know of any other novels that started that way?

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15 thoughts on “Angel of the Crows”

  1. Shards of Honor started life as a Star Trek fanfic. I’m glad she filed off the serial numbers.

    Off hand no others come to mind.

  2. First, that’s funny about the angels and vampires thing – I was just reading Nalini Singh’s Guild Hunter series, where the world is ruled by angels and the vampires they create and command, but I hadn’t seen that combo before.

    Re published fanfic: I mean, obviously there’s tons of Sherlock Holmes adaptations – what’s the different between that and fanfic, besides the level of respect given to the author and the finished work? Originality? Or is it about the kinds of changes made? (honestly, I’m not sure what the dividing line is between adaptation and fanfic)

    I know that Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments started life as Harry Potter fanfic (I read the first 3 books as a teen, drifted away from the series), and while I didn’t read it, of course the 50 Shades of Gray books were Twilight fanfic.

    I read a very strange sci fi romance novel by Ann Aguirre recently that was evidently fanfic from the game Mass Effect (I liked prior work of hers, and it was free, so I figured I’d check it out – wasn’t totally clear on what I was getting into but it was fun).

    Also, I don’t think it’s fanfic itself, but I really enjoy the Amaranthine series by Forthright, and I think it’s her first non-fanfic work.

  3. Oh! Also, the Court of Thorns and Roses series (Sarah J Maas), in its 2nd book on, borrows pretty obviously from the Black Jewels world (Anne Bishop). I don’t know if it’s lifting enough to count as fanfic, but it’s definitely a very easy-to-identify homage, at the least.

  4. Rainbow Rowell’s excellent “Carry On” and it’s fun sequel “Wayward Son” are an odd case, since they spun off from her *character’s* fanfic of a fictional totally-not-Harry-Potter series in “Fangirl”.

    Which really should not have worked at all. But in the event I like them rather better than Harry Potter.

  5. Donald Kingsbury had “Psychohistorical Crisis”, which is as the title suggests a sequel to the Foundation Trilogy (not the later books) with the serial numbers not so much filed off as lightly buffed. The names are changed and the psychic powers replaced with tech, but the story is set in the sort of Second Empire Hari Seldon might have envisioned if robots and Gaia hadn’t interposed themselves.

  6. I lost interest in this when I learned it was about Jack the Ripper and my interest absolutely zero’d out when I read it was BBC Sherlock wingfic. That’s purely because I strongly dislike that version of Sherlock Holmes, or indeed any story about men who use their intelligence as an excuse to be jerks.

    I’m absolutely on board with writers repurposing fanfic that has strayed far enough from its original canon! Per SarahZ’s comment above about the dividing line between adaptation and fanfic, I’ve always thought it’s whether the original work is out of copyright. From that perspective, a lot of modern work has its roots in fanfic.

  7. I read an e-galley a few weeks ago, and didn’t enjoy it. She had some creative ideas awkwardly stuffed into the Holmes model, and it seemed like a giant waste. I wanted to tell her “skip the homage, and just write the original stuff we know you can do.” I love fanfic, but not this.

  8. So, Mary Beth, that would make the distinction between adaptation and fanfic more a legal one than a literary one, right? I think that’s an interesting angle.

  9. From a certain angle all Sherlock stories since Doyle are fanfic, and all Arthurian tales since… Malory, I guess, are also. For modern stuff, it does look like the main difference is legal. Adaptations are usually licensed due to the long copyright period and someone expects to make money off them. Fanfictions aren’t licensed and rarely published in any official – Big 5 publisher – way.

    Although I’ve also heard the LOTR movies labeled PJ’s Fanfiction of JRRT.

  10. I’ve ripped off ideas but I’ve filed off serial numbers before the first draft, always. So — not me.

    Even on the fairy tale stuff, I’ve generally ripped off several variants at once.

  11. I’m currently stalled at page 66 of Angel of Crows, despite my love of the Goblin Emperor and a fondness for Holmes adaptations (though I didn’t know this was going to be one, and wasn’t thrilled with the surprise).
    I think it’s because there are so many, and this one is so straightforward – two males, Doyle mimicked sentences, and so far a direct Study in Scarlet plot. Alexis Hall’s The Affair of the Mysterious Letter (2019) is much more imaginative in the world building (& characters); April White’s An Urchin of Means is a lot more fun (relaxed too) & not so direct; etc. etc.

    I don’t get the line between fanfic and adaptations either. However, regarding the legality line, didn’t Amazon have weird program years ago where they bought the fanfic rights of certain popular series so that people could publish their short stories through Kindle? I think the program even let the fanfic writers sell the stories.

  12. Most of the charm of it was seeing the subtle changes worked to the Holmes canon.

    There were some clumsy surprises

  13. I don’t know anything like enough about copyright law OR fanfiction to venture any kind of opinion, but the legalistic definition is new to me and seems like it could be useful. Certainly no shortage of interesting examples of maybe-fanfic, that’s for sure. If Amazon did that kind of buy-the-rights-now-amybody-can-write-fic, that actually sounds pretty brilliant.

    And, big take home message as far as I can tell, if you write and publish fanfic through any publisher, do NOT try to disguise that in the book description. I would have thought that was a no-brainer, but here we are.

  14. I admit that when I like an author, as I like Ms. Addison/Monette, I come prepared to like their works, and it takes a lot to make me think otherwise. That said, and having read a fair share of negative reviews – I liked it. I generally do NOT like, and avoid, Jack the Ripper stories, and admit I may have glossed over those elements in this book. But I enjoyed the characters and the paranormal elements. I thought this version of Sherlock Holmes was actually a pretty likable person. And I liked the paranormal elements, even though I don’t usually like “angel” stories. It’s a total switch from The Goblin Emperor, but I went in with pretty low expectations, knowing it was a Sherlock Holmes/Jack the Ripper story, and I enjoyed it.

  15. Thank you, Mary, that is a very helpful comment. I do the same — go in prepared to like an author’s book — and I would eventually like to try this one.

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