#NetGalley #ARCReview: Castle Shade (Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #17) by Laurie R. King

When we were married more than 20 years ago, I began listening to audiobooks from the library. I was on a Sherlock Holmes kick at the time, and devouring every pastiche I could get. One of those books was The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (Amazon) (AbeBooks), the first volume of the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes mystery series. I was skeptical until I listened to the audiobook, and was immediately hooked. At the time, there were only three volumes in the series, and over the years I have patiently awaited each volume as it has been released. I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of Castle Shade (Amazon) via NetGalley and Bantam Books in exchange for an honest review.

From the publisher: “A queen, a castle, a dark and ageless threat—all await Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes in this chilling new adventure.

The queen is Marie of Roumania: the doubly royal granddaughter of Victoria, Empress of the British Empire, and Alexander II, Tsar of Russia. A famous beauty who was married at seventeen into Roumania’s young dynasty, Marie had beguiled the Paris Peace Conference into returning her adopted country’s long-lost provinces, singlehandedly transforming Roumania from a backwater into a force.

The castle is Bran: a tall, quirky, ancient structure perched on high rocks overlooking the border between Roumania and its newly regained territory of Transylvania. The castle was a gift to Queen Marie, a thank-you from her people, and she loves it as she loves her own children.

The threat is . . . well, that is less clear. Shadowy figures, vague whispers, the fears of girls, dangers that may be only accidents. But this is a land of long memory and hidden corners, a land that had known Vlad the Impaler, a land from whose churchyards the shades creep.

When Queen Marie calls, Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are as dubious as they are reluctant. But a young girl is involved, and a beautiful queen. Surely it won’t take long to shine light on this unlikely case of what would seem to be strigoi (vampires)?”

I took my time reading Castle Shade, savoring every page. I think I was spoiled by having a Mary Russell book come out just a year ago, because they normally don’t come out once a year. But thanks to the pandemic, many writers, include Laurie R. King, put their nose to the grindstone, as it were, and were able to put out another book. In that respect, the pandemic is great for readers.

Once again, Laurie R. King weaves a tale full of ambiance and character studies. I admire how her fluid descriptions of various settings brings them to life. I normally have a hard time imagining how things look, but not with King’s prose. I could picture Castle Bran and it’s exterior and interior with ease. The village and it’s inhabitants come to life right off the page under the author’s expert writing.

The thing I appreciated about Castle Shade was the multiple levels of intrigue and mystery. Just when I thought I had figured out part of the mystery, King throws in some more information that creates another mystery that must be solved. There are so many different layers going on, but it’s not confusing. It just compels you to keep reading, to keep up with Mary and Sherlock, to keep gathering clues to solve the myriad of mysteries going on.

While Mary is quite the independent woman who does quite well on her own despite her relative youth (relative to my youth, that is. She’s the same age I was when I discovered her books and I was nowhere near as smart), it’s when she and Sherlock work together that I enjoy the most, and there’s plenty of that in Castle Shade. At this point in their relationship, they’re always on the same page, and can anticipate each other’s moves. In fact, Mary counts on that ability for Holmes to find her when she goes off in the search of more information, not knowing where she’s going to wind up.

Because of Castle Shade, I will most likely look up history books to find out more on Queen Marie of Roumania and that branch of Queen Victoria’s and the Russian Romanov’s family. Queen Victoria had something like 90 grandchildren so it goes without saying that I do not know the history of most of her descendants. That’s what I think makes the best historical fiction so interesting; it can make you reach out and learn more about some aspect of history for which you have little knowledge.

Castle Shade goes on sale to the public on June 8, 2021.

For more Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes mystery reviews, click here.

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