Enola Holmes and the Elegant Escapade

As many viewers of the Enola Holmes movie did, I suspect (particularly given the prominent bullet on the cover of this book), I found myself curious about the book series that inspired it. There were six young adult novels, originally, written by Nancy Springer and published from 2007 to 2010.

The series picked back up after the success of the movie, with Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche released last year. It opens with a prologue in which Sherlock Holmes, Enola’s older brother, tells us about all the times she outwitted him. It’s intended to catch up new readers (or forgetful ones, given the publication gap), as the events he summarizes comes from the previous volumes, but it put me off the book. I appreciate creating ways for new readers to participate, but I think it’s entirely possible to write adventures about related characters without putting down the original inspiration. (I admit this is entirely a matter of opinion. The young adult audience these books are aimed at don’t have the same concern, nor should they.)

Thus I approached the newest installment, Enola Holmes and the Elegant Escapade, with some concern. Thankfully, I loved it. It removed the issues I had with the premise and the character while providing an inspiring adventure.

Enola Holmes and the Elegant Escapade cover

Lady Cecily Alistair, who has appeared in two of the previous books, is once again being held captive. She had previously been rescued from a kidnapping by Enola (in The Case of the Left-Handed Lady), but having been a victim means she’s ruined by scandal. Enola later prevented her forced marriage (in The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan), but her uncaring, overly restrictive father is trying again, keeping Cecily prisoner until he can arrange for someone else to marry her.

The interesting thing about Cecily is that her struggles have given her a bit of split personality. Her meek, agreeable, little lady side is right-handed, while her artistic, self-expressive, determined side uses her left hand. It’s a relatable metaphor for how young women can feel split between who they want to be and the pressures around who they’re supposed to be.

As this volume begins, Enola has reconciled with her brothers Sherlock and Mycroft. She is living on her own, with their knowledge, at a women’s club. She has also found out what happened to her mother. I won’t spoil it, but having that plot point resolved addresses the biggest issue that got in my way when I tried to read this series. It’s hard for me, as an adult, to enjoy “young woman on her own” adventures when she’s both so upset by her mother’s sudden disappearance and yet manages to forget all about it to have those adventures. We’re told her mother is impressive for training her to be so independent, yet that same woman deserted her without warning. I was always vaguely distracted by that conflict, so I’m glad that distraction has been removed.

Without those forced obstacles, I found this mystery much more enjoyable. Enola is getting to know Sherlock better (Mycroft doesn’t make an appearance) and taking classes while still being curious about life. She stands up for herself and has friends and colleagues to help her, in addition to her famous brother.

Events move quickly once Enola discovers Cecily’s imprisonment and determines to do something about it. Sherlock has been brought into the case, as well, as he’s been hired by her family to find their missing daughter. The result is an energetic, action-packed adventure where the two siblings manage to work together while remaining themselves, with their own opinions and methods. It’s a fun, spirited read. It also, based on my experience, can be enjoyed without knowing much about the previous books.

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