In 2006, Nancy Springer started a series of short chapter books featuring Enola Holmes, the imaginary younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes with an independent streak and a knack for solving mysteries without the aid of her brothers. The series reached six volumes, won several awards, and had a sufficient fan base to inspire a movie in 2020. Nancy Springer has returned to the series, writing a seventh addition, and the graphic adaptations, by French creator Serena Blasco and originally translated in 2018, are now being republished in omnibus format by Andrews McMeel.
In “The Case of the Missing Marquess,” Enola’s carefree life is disrupted by her mother’s abrupt disappearance. Disappointed and angry at her brothers’ dismissal of her mother and at plans to curtail her freedom, Enola cracks codes left by her mother and runs away, stopping only to solve the mystery of a kidnapped heir and discover her own skills as a detective. In “The Case of the Left-Handed Lady,” Enola is now masquerading as Ivy Meshle and makes the acquaintance of Dr. John Watson. She learns from Watson that her brothers are still searching for her, but also of the mysterious disappearance of Lady Alistair, and she decides to pursue the case herself. In a dangerous climax, she solves the case, while further building her reputation as a detective and navigating her complicated relationship with her brothers. In “The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets,” Enola is searching for a new persona with which to hide herself from her brothers, especially Sherlock, when she hears the news of Dr. Watson’s disappearance. As she works to find out what has happened to the doctor, she makes a few discoveries about her own situation and her family as well.
Serena Blasco’s art is a far cry from the original covers of the mysteries and a bit jarring to readers expecting the typical dark hues of Sherlockian Victorian London. Blasco reinterprets Enola’s surroundings with colorful, swirling watercolors, emphasizing the vibrant hues of the flowers used for coded messages and Enola’s daring disguises. Even the scenes set at night in London’s underworld are richly colored with murky blues, purples, and greens. Enola’s long brunette locks, when not hidden under brightly colored and elaborately coiffured wigs, swirl loosely around her narrow face, her sharp nose showing her likeness to her brother Sherlock. The villains are often grotesque, fitting with the pastiche flavor of the original books, with distorted, even demonic faces. Although Enola’s lodgings in London are bright and cozy, the poorest streets where she ventures dressed as a nun swirl with lavender smoke and green miasmas from the river, with figures crouching miserably in the shadows. Enola’s exaggeratedly large, lustrous eyes glow with purpose or dim with tears, as she frequently reflects on the anagram of her name, “alone,” and her mother’s absence in scenes dim with misty blues.
Art and flowers both play a part in the stories, with excerpts from newspapers, Enola’s notebook, and codes following each story, and encapsulating the events, clues, and resolution. Enola finds clues in the codes of the flowers, in her own artistic skill and in that of the women whose lives she explores, all helping her solve the mysteries. The miseries and injustice of Holmes’s London is hinted at throughout the story, as well as the curtailed lives of women—from being committed to asylums for not following society’s rules to the strictures Enola’s brothers attempt to place about her own life. There are several somewhat graphic attempts on Enola’s life, but they are not depicted so brutally as to make the title inappropriate for most middle grade readers. The Enola Holmes series has always been odd in that it fits best in a tween or middle school collection and the graphic novel adaptation is the same.
Fans of the original series may or may not be interested in this new vision of Springer’s work, and fans of the movie adaptation are unlikely to recognize the more mature figure of Enola in Blasco’s colorful fantasy, but readers who have not yet encountered Enola Holmes and enjoy mysteries with plenty of atmosphere and codes to solve are likely to enjoy this. It will also appeal to some manga fans, due to the art style.
Enola Holmes: The Graphic Novel, Vol. 1
By Serena Blasco, Nancy Springer, Tanya Gold,
Andrews McNeel, 2022
Publisher Age Rating: 9-12 years
Related media: Book to Comic
NFNT Age Recommendation: Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation: French