I came into The Language of Bees very belatedly–and only because I actually won an ARC of its immediate followup, The God of the Hive, on Goodreads! I therefore wound up reading them pretty much back to back, and that’s definitely how you should read them, since the two are linked parts of one overall story that really doesn’t come into true focus until you’ve read them both.
For this review, though, I’ll deal specifically with The Language of Bees. It starts off domestically enough, with Mary and Holmes returning home for the first time in many months to discover a minor mystery awaiting them: what’s happened to one of Holmes’ hives? Right along with that, though, they’re handed a much bigger one. For Holmes has an adult son Damian by his old affair with Irene Adler. And Damian needs his help to find his missing wife and daughter.
I was almost disappointed that the mystery of what happened with the hive got only a little bit of camera time at the beginning. Mary spends some time on it while Holmes departs with Damian, and while she does eventually find the answer, it barely comes up later on. But I could forgive that easily, for the edgy uncertainty between Mary and Holmes as she tries to fathom how he’s dealing with the discovery of not only Damian, but of Damian’s wife and daughter, was thoroughly gripping character development. This is the meat and potatoes of why I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this series in general; not only does King know her Holmes lore intimately, but she extrapolates beautifully from what’s in the canon. I absolutely bought into the character of Damian and how he grew up with the specter of his famous father looming over his life.
Perhaps because I hadn’t actually read any of the Mary Russells in a while, I was slightly jarred by the realization that this book was set in 1924. I’m used to thinking of “Sherlock Holmes” in the context of “late 1800’s”, or at the very least, no later than WWI. Yet the undeniable technological advancements of the 20’s are in play here, and serve as symbols of what comes up as a distinct theme all throughout this book as well as the next one: Holmes and his brother Mycroft growing old enough that the world is developing past them.
Toss in the connection of a mysterious cult that seems to have ensnared the missing Yolanda and the potential danger to Damian’s little girl, and suffice to say that I found this highly entertaining. Even if I still want to know what the heck happened in Japan, a question still unanswered after a couple of novels now! Four stars.