A review of Laurie R. King’s ‘The Beepkeeper’s Apprentice’ chapter one


Book One Apprenticeship

To make her novel seem more cultured and sophisticated, rather than the trashy fanfiction it is, King has split her novel into books. To add that extra touch of class, she’s also started each chapter with a pointless quotation that does nothing but add wordcount. I do not like pointless quotations. Authors like Carter or Atwood are skilled enough to blend relevant quotations into a text and improve our understanding of their meaning through their use. King thinks she can do this. She can not.

Two Shabby Figures

The discovery of a sign of true intellect outside ourselves procures us something of the emotion Robinson Crusoe felt when he saw the imprint of a human foot on the sandy beach of the island.

You guise, you guise, only Mary Russell can understand Sherlock Holmes. That Watson was just a dweeb!

The story starts with Mary Russell wandering the Sussex Downs, reading a book, and walking straight into Sherlock Holmes in 1915. She’s reading Virgil, so we know she’s super smart.

The Latin text flew into the air, followed closely by an Anglo-Saxon oath.

See? She’s smart, she’s smart, cried the author as people questioned why her main character let slip words not used for a thousand years, and the fact that the word ‘oath’ when used in conjunction with the Anglo-Saxons generally applies to fealty oaths and not cursing. She and Holmes get off to a bad start as he accidentally insults her feet. You see, Mary is very tall and she has constant arguments with her ‘small, neat, shrewish, sharp-tongued, quick-witted, and proud of her petite hands and feet’ aunt about how clumsy and tall she is. Which is enough to set SUE alarm bells ringing in my head. Clumsy, a single flaw in her looks making her think she is ugly and unfeminine, check, check. And she gets furious with him, for no apparent reason than he used the word ‘underfoot’.

Not on the side of the character so far.

Holmes does the worst possible thing – he ignores her, as well he should. He’s watching bees, bees flying past with blue and red spots on. And Mary, of course, as the Mary Sue distaff counterpart she is, manages to perfect deduct what exactly is going on. Because she is just like Sherlock Holmes.

‘I should have thought it obvious,’ I said impatiently, though even at that age I was aware that such things were not obvious to the majority of people. ‘I see paint on your pocket-handkerchief, and traces on your fingers where you wiped it away. The only reason to mark bees that I can think of is to enable one to follow them to their hive. You are either interested in gathering honey or in the bees themselves, and it is not the time of year to harvest honey.’

Actually, it’s spring, which is the time that nineteenth century and early twentieth century beekeeper’s harvested their honey. Five minutes on google told me that.

‘Three months ago we had an unusual cold spell that killed many hives. Therefore I assume that you are tracking these in order to replenish your own stock.’

It is April 1915. In England. Cold spells in January are not unheard of. In fact, it’s pretty cold right up until May or June. And naturally, Sherlock Holmes is incredibly impressed by this.

‘My God, it can think.’

By Loki, it is a Sue.

From this she manages to work out – sorry, deduce – that this is Sherlock Holmes, even though she thought him the product of Watson’s imagination. The stories, she adds, were hampered by the fact ‘he always regarded the reader to be as slow as himself’. Every time you insult John Watson’s intelligence, a moustache somewhere shrivels and dies. I hope you remember that King as you beat into our heads how much you hate his character for no reason. It also insults anyone who ever enjoyed the Sherlock Holmes stories and shows us why Holmes was not the main narrator; the self-satisfied smugness does not make a reader emphasize or like the character. It makes me want to slap her silly face until she squeals Anglo-Saxon oaths.

Holmes then insinuates that she is a boy so she screams at him and insults him, while letting her ‘long blonde plaits’ slither out across her shoulder.

That’s another point for the Sue checklist – long lustrous locks.

This whole business makes Holmes howl with laughter. Oh, being insulted by fifteen year old girls! It is such a hilarious situation!

They begin to talk a little while and Mary shouts about how much she is a feminist but assures us that she is no man-hater. I’m pretty sure that ‘feminist’ was not a term used in 1915, being retroactively applied to the work of women fighting for equal rights of women through the socialist movement. But I’m an early-modernist, my modern history is very basic at best. Like Mary Russell’s understanding of the difference between ‘feminism’ and ‘man-hating’ as best shown through her little rant about bees.

‘From what I know of them they are mindless creatures, little more than a tool for putting fruit on trees. The females do all the work; the males do… well, they do little. And the queen, the only one who might amount to something, is condemned for the sake of the hive to spend her days as an egg machine. And,’ I said, warming to the topic, ‘what happens when her equal comes along, another queen with which she might have something in common? They are both forced – for the good of the hive – to fight to the death. Bees are great workers, it is true, but does not the production of each bee’s total lifetime amount to a single dessertspoonful of honey? Each hive puts up with having hundreds of thousands of bee-hours stolen regularly, to be spread on toast and formed into candles, instead of declaring war or going on strike as any sensible, self-respecting race would do. A bit too close to the human race for my taste.’

What a load of bullshit.

  • They are bees. Bees are insects. Insects can’t go on strike, they lack the same level of conscious thought as a human being.
  • You don’t make honey into candles.
  • Bees make honey to eat. They don’t just do it for the benefit of humans.
  • And the last time I checked, I don’t spend my days squatting out eggs and then fighting my female housemates. Terry Pratchett can write a good humans/bees analogy. You fail miserably.

Of course, Holmes is over the moon with this terrible speech and instantly invites her round for tea. He asks her her name, and she tells him it’s Mary Russell.

‘I believe I was named after the Magdalene, rather than the Virgin.’

….

what difference does that make? It’s the same name.

I began to feel something hard and tight within me relax slightly, and an urge I had thought killed began to make the first tentative stirrings towards life.

If you’re playing along at home, here’s another box to check on your Mary Sue bingo card! First to a completed row wins a grand prize! They talk about every topic under the sun until they get back to Holmes’ home where he is still employing Mrs Hudson, who must be extremely elderly at this point. Holmes immediately talks about how he should have never left London, should have got an allotment instead of moving to ‘a typical ageless Sussex cottage, flint walls and a red tile roof’.

Yes, an allotment in central London. In central London. King, you’ve never been to London, have you? There is also no such thing as a ‘typical’ Sussex cottage, and I doubt it would be flint. Flint is more suited to the Norfolk area.

The pair sit and have a pleasant afternoon tea on the terrace. Mary is starving, something she finds odd, as recently she’s trained herself not to eat. This is treated like a amusing quirk, rather than as a sign of a severe eating disorder. They challenge each other to deduce all they can about the other as a test of their abilities. Oh god. Let’s find out about Mary!

  • Named for her paternal grandmother.
  • Fifteen years old and intends to go to university. which is wrong on many levels.
  • Left handed.
  • Jewish mother, which would make her Jewish if my high school religious education is right.
  • Reads and writes Hebrew. Which isn’t difficult to work out if her mother is Jewish.
  • Wears her father’s suit.
  • Comes from America and moved to England in the last two years.
  • Both her parents died in a car accident that she was involved in.
  • TRAGIC BACKSTORY
  • have you won the mary sue prize yet
  • She has scars that don’t damage her looks
  • another sue point!
  • She now lives with a mean aunt who inexplicably hates her
  • OHMIGOD I GOT TWO SUE ROWS ON MY BINGO CARD!
  • and she has a daunting intelligence

‘Two hundred years ago, you would have been burnt.’

‘Daunting intelligence’? DAUNTING INTELLIGENCE?

WITCHES WERE NOT BURNT IN ENGLAND

HANGING IS HOW YOU KILL A WITCH

BURNING IS FOR HERESY, PETTY TREASON, NORMAL TREASON AND COIN FORGERY

IS ONE OF THOSE WITCHCRAFT? IS IT?

NO.

because English witches don’t get burnt

go to scotland for that.

Mary then further says that Leviticus calls for stoning of a witch, not burning. Which further proves you are a stupid, stupid, stupid girl. Holmes and Russell talk all through the night, until he gets so late he has to call a taxi cab. In 1915. In the middle of the Sussex countryside. He then asks about her will. Because her aunt is soooo mean, he’s going to give a loan so that she can spend every day with him!

Like any other fanfiction featuring a Mary Sue, the rules of the established universe are bent in order to satisfy the needs of the original character. She then deduces about Holmes’ life, which is three pages of made up bullshit and talking about how stupid Watson is. They then talk about university, which Mary is FAR too young for, and when she says she will study theology, Holmes throws a bitch fit. Because what she studies at university is entirely down to what he thinks is appropriate for a girl he has known for six hours.

And so began my long association with Sherlock Holmes.

That would be a good place to end the chapter, but King must address the issue of Mary’s sole relative, her aunt. Like any good Sue, Mary spends no time with other characters than those of the canon, and the author goes to great pains to explain what a miserable old bitch her aunt was and that this is why the character is never in the narrative and never met by the reader. Just so we know.

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One thought on “A review of Laurie R. King’s ‘The Beepkeeper’s Apprentice’ chapter one

  1. Just wanted to say that the candles are made out of beeswax. They’re really common.
    And it could be possible for a 15-year-old girl to enter university, especially as Mary had been homeschooling herself, and was about to turn 16. The normal age is 17, the year you turn 18, but passing the entrance exams was considered more important than age.
    You should really try reading the rest of the series, there’s significant character development, and more historical background! Even as a firm believer in canonical Holmes as asexual, and severely disliking her treatment of Watson and their relationship and past, I find it helps to ignore it!
    Also, Laurie R. King has lived in London and Sussex, and travels and researches the settings and history of her novels before writing them, but surely one can allow some artistic license? And the reason Mary has little involvement with non-canon characters is partly because she lives alone with her aunt in the countryside, and doesn’t attend school, and these are her memoirs of her life as a detective and with Sherlock Holmes. When she becomes an adult, her autonomy and wider relationships feature heavily. Her life at Oxford is very idealised, but there are long passages of her alone, working, thinking and interacting with others.
    Anyway, I hope your self esteem problems are going okay.

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