A surprisingly unsentimental view of life in Victorian England, far removed from romance and riches. Our heroine, Enola Holmes, does start out moneyed, after a fashion: she lives on her ancestral estate with her mother, but Nancy Springer is quick to point out that the women aren’t rich in their own right, as all their property and income are beholden to their male relatives.
On her fourteenth birthday, Enola is aghast to find that her mother has pretty much gone walkabout. After failing to track her down, she summons her older brothers, Mycroft and Sherlock, for help, unwittingly opening up a Pandora’s box of unpleasant surprises for everyone involved. While Sherlock continues to investigate the disappearance, Mycroft decides that the best thing for Enola is boarding school, a place against which their feminist, rationalist mother had railed. Enola decides to take matters into her own hands and runs away, stumbling across the case of a missing marquess in the meantime and setting her off on her own career path.
Ms Springer does not shy away from discussing how absolutely squalid London could be in the Victorian era, and how poorly women were treated across all social classes. I was a bit leery of the Sherlock connection but I think it’s handled well, overall, and used as a springboard for a more socially conscious sort of mystery. This is a terrific book for young women and mystery lovers of all ages: it’s a quick read, but it certainly punches above its weight in terms of refusing to ignore the realities of life for Victorian women and the poor.
Oh, almost forgot: I picked this up after hearing that Millie Bobby Brown had optioned it for production.