I’ve probably mentioned a time or ten that I have a longstanding affection for Sherlock Holmes and related adaptations/spinoffs, which these days seems to mean a more or less endless list of things to read. (And watch – I’m perhaps the only person who was kind of lukewarm about the BBC Sherlock. The idea/aesthetic of it was cool, but the actual plotlines were kind of hit and miss. )
Which is to say The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason is right up my alley because it’s about Sherlock Holmes’s niece Mina (Alvermina actually, in keeping with the Holmes famly’s taste for “ridiculous” names.) Also Bram Stoker’s sister Evaline, a vampire hunter who inspired his book. (I read Dracula in grade 9 and haven’t looked it since – I keep meaning to.) They get to solve a mystery in an alternate universe London where vampires are real, electricity is outlawed and Irene Adler works at the British Museum for some reason.
It’s a fun premise and a good bus read and they get to be in the British Museum after hours (I have a deep and irrational affection for being places when they’re closed.) And yet I found the characters to be two types that I’m kind of tired of individually and annoyed me together.
Miss Holmes is so very smart and capable – she’s learned a lot from her uncle, and is keen to put it to use. She’s not attractive but it’s cool because she’s to busy being smart to care about something so trivial. No one invites her to parties but it’s for the best because no one would ask her to dance anyway. So naturally male characters (au pleurial!) are obviously into her. And naturally she doesn’t notice because she’s so busy being plain and clever. It’s hot to be smart, you guys! Seriously, can’t a heroine be nerdy without those gentleman callers in the background reassuring us that of course she’s beautiful after all?
On the other hand, Miss Stoker is pretty and, unlike so many characters, has actually noticed. But she’s too cool to care, you guys! She picks her clothes for practicality and keeps stakes in her coiffure. She does get invited to parties but hides the invitations from her well meaning sister-in-law because obviously going would be a waste of time. Eligible young men are always asking her to dance and it’s so annoying. What’s more empowering than a strong female character who hates on stupid girly stuff?
Not like either of these is inherently the wrong way to be. (Although if you’re so! very! observant! maybe try to notice if people are flirting with you?) But I found myself thinking about a time I was at a bar with my gorgeous, charismatic friend and some guy said to me “So, you’re the smart one and she’s the pretty one, right?”
And I was like “……I disagree with the premise of your question.”