Creepy stuff?

In following the discussion of THE BEEKEEPER’S APPRENTICE over in the Virtual Book Club, it has struck me that negativity can be the paprika enlivening your mashed potatoes. In a forum dedicated to one author’s work, especially when the participants know said author is lurking (LuRKing?) somewhere in the background, it’s not too likely that super-critical remarks are going to fly. So I looked at the comments section on the BEEKEEPER listing in the Giant Brazilian River of Books, to see the other side of the argument.

Amazon encourages comments from both ends of the spectrum, from the unremittingly five star reviews that make you wonder why the author hasn’t been given a Nobel to those that have you speculating about hydrophobia, such as—

“Quite frankly, the other reviewers are talking out of their nether regions. This is by far and away the stinkiest pile of hokum-kokum ever written. Sherlock is a bufoon and Watson is quite obviously gay. If I were Sherlock, I would take a stick and beat Watson soundly with it, the big queen. The beekeeper plot is a complete pickled herring. I know for a fact that Sherlock dosent even like honey! So how could he be any use at all? It’s ridiculous. I could write a more interesting and believeable story sitting on the bog, pants round my ankles, with no bog paper, in the middle of a power cut. Sort it out Doyle.”

And I don’t have a problem with reactions like that, honestly. I accept that one of my functions as a published writer is to permit those who need it a place to vent. However, some of the reviews at the Giant River site (and I haven’t read them all, by any means–probably less than a quarter of them) have some less rabid criticisms that give me pause for thought. I am, it shall be noted, not one of those writers who claims never to read reviews: I value reviews, thoughtful and analytical reactions. And if I place more importance on those that have been run through a spell check, well, call me a snob.

One of the concerns the Book Club has touched upon is the creepiness factor of, as one positive Amazon review put it, “Sherlock Holmes meets Nancy Drew.” Which is fine, having Holmes and Nancy meet, but having them then marry? Eww. The subject, of course, is strictly speaking outside the scope of the current title, since it isn’t until later that we find out what happens, but as far as spoilers go, the fact of the Russell/Holmes marriage is a pretty poorly kept secret. (We did take off the reference on the main BEEKEEPER page on the web site, at the request of an irritated reader, but after the mid-nineties, it’s probably safe to say that a fair number of the people who read the book knew where the two characters ended up.)

Take the reaction of one reviewer, who gave the book five stars, but…

“But as said in the title of this review, I won’t read the follow-ups of the Russell/Holmes series despite this very delightful first installment. I read this book’s “Prelude: Author’s note” after I finished the story, and I was appalled to find that the “Prelude” was signed off by “MRH.” Why can’t the author keep the affection between Russell and Holmes as that between a daughter and father?? Holmes’ over 50 when Russell’s only 15! Plus, while it is welcome to make Holmes more human, it’s too much to make Holmes a husband. Arr… I think I’d be better off closing the book still pretending that Russell is just like a daughter to Holmes. With that, to me their adventure comes to a close with this wonderful book.”

Interestingly, this is a common reaction to the series as a whole, beginning to end—“The idea doesn’t appeal to me so I don’t think I’ll try them.” Although when that person does give one a try, often as not he finds himself a fervent convert.

So, what do you think? Valid criticism, or just sad that the reader won’t give the next books a chance?

Oh, and by the way, I didn’t imagine anyone would want to think about polenta in the middle of summer, but in a day or so I’ll post how I make it. Maybe those of you in the southern hemisphere will enjoy it.

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  1. kuttlewis on July 14, 2007 at 3:27 pm

    Dear Laurie King,
    Did you know Lois McMaster Bujold followed your “creepy stuff” in her new series: Sharing Knife: Beguilement (book 1) and Legacy (book 2)? Fawn is 18 and Dak is 54. You believe ageism is like sexism, just fear of people who don’t fit into neat little pigeonholes?


  2. corgimom on July 14, 2007 at 3:32 pm

    Ultimately I think it is sad that this reader will not give the other books a chance. Russell doesn’t marry Holmes at the age of 15 and human nature and our ability to love is endlessly complex. Even more sad if the reader has a personal/moral/religious filter that doesn’t allow in any uncomfortable concepts. Speaking from the point of view of a middle-aged lesbian mom who makes a living as a family law attorney, love between (and even among) consenting adults is damned hard to find and keep healthy for any number of years–why judge and reject any other adult’s success in love? Specifically as to refusing to read the rest of a series I will say that at the end of CALIFIA’S DAUGHTERS I had no interest in ever again entering that harsh world (how COULD you leave that animal out there??); however, with time and rest I find my curiosity about the characters both furry and human has become greater than my reluctance to join them in their next challenges should time and muse permit another installment. Maybe this particular critical reader will come back after a period of time to the Russell series. If not, it truly is his or her loss.

  3. Kerry on July 14, 2007 at 5:51 pm

    I think Corgimom hit at least one nail on the head with her comment about “Califia’s Daughters.” People read for a lot of different reasons, and some books — for reasons of plot, writing style, characterization, period, place, etc. etc. etc. — simply aren’t going to meet everyone’s reading needs or pleasures. I know that I find some kinds of events and plots too disturbing to read about; some kinds of characters far too objectionable to spend my limited time with; some kinds of writing simply too difficult to wade through to be worth the trouble. Sometimes a formerly-favorite author simply stops writing good books. I’ve declined to try legions of books for reasons like these.

    Is that sad? Maybe, if it means I’m missing out on potentially great books. Or maybe not. Maybe I’m just making the most informed decision I can about how to spend valuable time and money.

    I mean, seriously — don’t we all decline to read at least some books for reasons others would dispute? At some point, isn’t it really a matter of taste?

  4. Poodlerat on July 15, 2007 at 11:10 am

    While a reviewer is perfectly entitled to her own opinion, it seems strange to me not to try the rest of a series when you loved the first book, no matter what you might have heard about what happens in it. I would never do it—but maybe that’s just the kind of reader I am. When I love what I’ve read of an author’s work, I trust them to keep writing stuff I’ll love. It takes a lot of books I don’t enjoy before I’ll lose that trust. Some of my best reading experiences have happened when I’ve trusted the author to take me somewhere I didn’t think I wanted to go—it usually turns out that she was right and I was wrong!

    I was uncomfortable with the Russell/Holmes romance when I first read MREG, but now that I’ve got used to the idea, I wouldn’t want them any other way. I was surprised during OJER, because I’d actually forgotten that Russell and Holmes hadn’t always been married. I’m sure it helped that I never felt a father-daughter vibe from their relationship, not even in the very beginning.

    I find that reader’s refusal sad, and it reminds me of the way some people won’t try the Kate Martinelli books because they feature a lesbian character. I don’t think it’s valid to, essentially, criticize books you haven’t read—I wouldn’t expect you to take her criticism to heart, and I don’t think anyone should rely on her opinion of what Holmes and Russell’s relationship is—but of course she has the right to express her opinion. I do think it’s sad that she’s missing out on so many fantastic books, though!

  5. Carlina on July 15, 2007 at 10:37 pm

    I must agree with what everyone else has posted here. How on earth can you like one book in a series, then ignore the others despite what has been said. I never had any reservations about Holmes and Russell’s relationship…then again my opinion is rather biased since, as I have said before, my husband is older. I see echoes of my own marriage in your books…frightening eh? This also attracts me to the books. Either way, I would not have Holmes and Russell any other way. She is, essentially, a feminist version of the man himself.

    I think another problem you face is among the hardcore Holmesians…folks who cannot imagine Holmes married or thought he was a closet homosexual. That can be rather challenging and it is hard to make those folks bend…However you have done a good job in bringing new facets to Holmes.

    I believe the first review is just…well ignorant…I leads me to believe they have not even read the book.

    Sad people judge books by their cover….

  6. trix on July 15, 2007 at 11:42 pm

    I’d pretty much like to add a “hear hear” to everyone’s statements previously. I wouldn’t have Holmes and Russell any other way either, despite the fact that I was a bit apprehensive when I heard about that particular aspect. However, since I’d read plenty of your other books, I trusted that the relationship would evolve naturally – and as someone else points out, Russell doesn’t marry him when she’s 15 – and all my trust was repaid in spades.

    I’d love to join the discussion about BEEK, but I have not, for the life of me, been able to locate a (purchasable) copy in the 2 years I’ve lived in Australia. And there’s no ebook version of it either, alas. I might just have to suck it up and order from Amazon, but I should have thought of that before the discussion started!

  7. ellephelps on July 16, 2007 at 9:41 am

    I agree with what’s already been posted here, as well as at the VBC (I expect anyone who cares enough to follow either site is in the same camp). I will say that I read the preface of BEEK before I read the book, as any good reader will, so I started the book knowing that eventually Russell and Holmes do marry, and it enriched my experience immensely. I was able to view certain passages with knowledge aforethought, as it were. So involved was I in the progressing relationship, in fact, that I almost didn’t want to read O Jerusalem, as it harkened back to early days. (Of course, I love the book.) Now, in fact, I read O Jerusalem immediately after BEEK, so not to lose the narrative flow. I find it easier to revisit Ali and Mahmoud as Russell does, with many years between, when I read Justice Hall.

    Usually, because Russell is so highly intelligent, I just forget that she is younger than I am.

    I agree, too, with Kerry, in that there are some things I just won’t/can’t read, even if I really enjoy the author’s other works. For many reasons, I don’t read the Martinelli series, although I know that they are written with the same attention to detail as the Russell series. I recommend Folly to anyone who will listen, but I had to skip the Vietnam sections of Keeping Watch (enjoyed the book immensely nonetheless). The scenes were just too realistic for me. I haven’t yet read Califia’s Daughters or the Anne Waverly book, primarily because I am saving them for a treat. I know that once I commit to them, I won’t be able to put them down, so I’m holding off.

    I am eagerly awaiting Touchstone!

  8. annr on July 16, 2007 at 5:33 pm

    In addition to the good points that others have made, I think the other point that needs mentioning is: your critic is projecting modern standards on historical characters. Today, we automatically assume any man in his fifties interested in a girl in her late teens or early twenties must be a pedophile. But as Russell herself has said, in the years following the Great War when there were fewer eligible young men around, a young woman marrying an older man was not an uncommon event.

    Love the Russell series – wish there were more!

  9. Decembermag on July 16, 2007 at 9:17 pm

    I have to admit I kind of get a reader choosing not to continue reading a series centered on a relationship they find creepy. I can think of at least one case where I found the first book in a trilogy interesting, but was so thoroughly disgusted with the main character and one of the themes of the book (incest), that I never could bring myself to read the rest of the set.

    As it happens, I don’t have a problem with Holmes and Russell. I think it’s because they’re such intellectual equals that I tend to forget the age difference. The only time I’ve ever been even mildly disturbed by the relationship is when, in Monstrous Regiment, Holmes tells Russell he’s wanted to kiss her since the moment they met. For some reason, that sentence (which I’ve paraphrased, of course) always has the effect of pulling me out of the story and reminding me that when Holmes first met Russell, she was really just a child. However, by the time I got to that line, I’d enjoyed the first two books in the series so much that my mild discomfort was never going to get in the way of my reading the next one.

    I will admit, though, that every time I introduce someone to the series, my target’s eyebrows go up when I mention that Holmes takes on a young apprentice and later marries her. I’ve learned to leave that little tidbit out of my introductory spiel.

  10. Cathy on July 17, 2007 at 7:52 am

    I think annr brought up a really important point about age disparities after the Great War and the Russell-Holmes relationship.

    My grandfather was 10 years older than my grandmother, and 19 years older than his second wife (the Oma I grew up with). Laurie, you’re quite a bit younger than your husband, too, right? All four of those things made my initial surprise — “Wow — that’s a big age gap” become just that — initial surprise that I didn’t think much of afterwards. Wasn’t she in her 20s when she marries him? And she was an old soul from the begining, anyways.

    Having said that, though, I left the Russell discussion list because I was weirded out by all the drooling and repetitive conversations about sexual tension.

  11. wildoakvirginia on July 17, 2007 at 2:07 pm

    hmm…You ever read a book that a friend gives you and after you finish you think,”boy I would have NEVER picked that one out for me.” Doesn’t really matter if you liked the book, just by taking the chance and reading it expanded your mind. And, potentially you have been exposed to thinking that can disturb/stimulate your imagination.

    Imagination, that’s why I read. And the age thing? Just another way to stretch my imagination.

  12. adyktd2thewrttnwrd on July 23, 2007 at 7:10 pm

    I will admit that at the end of the first book, I looked up reviews for the others . . . when I found out they were married, I was more grossed out than anything.

    Thirty-nine years difference in ages?! Ick. But, then, as I read the fourth, (read them in the order of 1, 2, 4, 6, 3, 7, 5, 8 . . . WHAT?! My library was poorly stocked so I grabbed what I could, yeesh. Proud to say that I own my own, much read copies and I read them in order, thank YOU very much :]) I realized, this wasn’t a pudgy, wrinkly, perverted old man we were talking about. The only things that made Holmes, for lack of a better phrase, old-like were his actual numbered age, stubborness and rheumitism. (Although, those weren’t a guarantee since, I have arthritis and I’m only 19; and, stuborness can be found in the most remote 2 year old you can find who wants to have something they can’t.)

    Physically, he was still lean and muscular. Sure, his hair was grey, yet he still had it. (In fact, my 21 year old brother has been losing hair for nearly 7 years, and I myself am going grey, so hair doesn’t really pin down age like we think it does.)

    And, then there is Russell’s inner self, who, let’s face it, has gone through so much so quickly that she mentally aged, quite rapidly. I, personally, find her maturity level very high. She also has this internal wisdom and self dignity that you didn’t find in many young women in the 1920’s. And, there is her very formal way of dress that is flattering and yet, stylish in her own way. Plus, the fact that she is Mensa material at age 15 reinforces the who internal age issue quite a bit.

    SO, back to my original point. I read the next ones and yes, while they are in love, these aren’t “bodice rippers” where you see the character in ALL their personal glory. Sure there is sex, Taboo I know (!), but, it is mostly left to the imagination of the reader.

    I personally am glad that I gave the series a chance. This series is at the top of my favorites list, which is quite short to be honest. And, King herself is on my favorite author’s list for all time now.


  13. cajela on July 24, 2007 at 6:37 am

    If you want to find Laurie’s books in Australia, go to Abbey’s. That’s where I found them, quite randomly, and have been buying from there ever since. (I am a fan but not a paid shill, honest!)

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