When I was pitched A Study in Honor as a Sherlock Holmes retelling in the pseudo US future, with a lesbian twist and a POC lead I was hooked. I am such a huge fan of re-tellings so this seemed right up my alley.
Dr. Janet Watson knows firsthand the horrifying cost of a divided nation. While treating broken soldiers on the battlefields of the New Civil War, a sniper’s bullet shattered her arm and ended her career. Honorably discharged and struggling with the semi-functional mechanical arm that replaced the limb she lost, she returns to the nation’s capital, a bleak, edgy city in the throes of a fraught presidential election. Homeless and jobless, Watson is uncertain of the future when she meets another black and queer woman, Sara Holmes, a mysterious yet playfully challenging covert agent who offers the doctor a place to stay.
Watson’s readjustment to civilian life is complicated by the infuriating antics of her strange new roommate. But the tensions between them dissolve when Watson discovers that soldiers from the New Civil War have begun dying one by one—and that the deaths may be the tip of something far more dangerous, involving the pharmaceutical industry and even the looming election. Joining forces, Watson and Holmes embark on a thrilling investigation to solve the mystery—and secure justice for these fallen soldiers.
(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
A Study in Honor features Janet Watson at the center: a veteran returned back from the war with a prosthetic arm and struggling to make sense of her new life post-war and post-amputation. Suffering from PTSD, Watson is not only scarred by a war that men in suits think they can impose their will upon, but also her identity afterwards. Once a surgeon, injured in the line of duty, who is Janet Watson when she can no longer perform surgery? All of a sudden Sara Holmes crashes into her life, a product of coincidence, but one that will ricochet throughout the whole series.
If you’re searching for a gender bent re-telling of Sherlock Holmes with some f/f thrown in, I would say that A Study in Honor doesn’t hit the ground running with that image. This book focuses much more of on Watson’s personality, her own recovery, and her life after the war. Sure we are introduced to Holmes relatively early on, and all her inconsistencies and secrets, but it doesn’t turn into what you might expect until much later on.
But I appreciated this. I was kind of expecting a hurried mystery re-telling, but O’Dell spends time luxuriating in Watson as a character herself. We discuss the ways the government doesn’t take care of veterans, bogged down in the system, and the ways it is hard to re-adjust to civilian life. At the same, there are fascinating insights into Watson as a character, the way women have to take the less disruptive route and how she navigates this dance.
At the same time, A Study in Honor explores the meaning of honor. Is this a promise? Is there honor in war? What responsibilities do we have? It gently unfolds, letting us really get to know Watson and what she’s struggling with. Ultimately if you’re searching for a story about a woman trying to re-adjust to a life she knew, to a world that has fundamentally changed, and figuring out her role, then you should read A Study in Honor and all the little Sherlock Holmes touches will delight you