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Complete No Bangs Without Foreign Office Approval - M - Sherlock

Discussion in 'Almost Recommended' started by Newcomb, Mar 8, 2017.

  1. Newcomb

    Newcomb Headmaster

    Sep 28, 2013
    The Evergreen State
    Title: No Bangs Without Foreign Office Approval
    Author: reckonedrightly
    Rating: MA
    Genre: Romance/Mystery
    Status: Completed
    Fandom: Sherlock
    Pairings: fem!Sherlock/fem!Watson
    It’s 1942, and while London’s nights are no longer interrupted by air raid sirens, the war still rages and not all of it is fought openly. From its headquarters in Baker Street, the Special Operations Executive plans to set Europe ablaze with its networks of spies and saboteurs in Nazi-occupied territory. Joan Watson knows what it is to keep a secret, but she isn’t expecting to be recruited into the clandestine world of SOE. Nor is she prepared to meet Sherlock Holmes, a former private detective who has by her own admission ruined her own life at least three times over—and who has a murder to solve in Occupied France.
    Link (AO3)

    So, this is genderbent Sherlock set in WWII-era Britain/France, basically. On paper it sounds... very odd. And in a lot of ways it is.

    What drew me to the story initially was the writing. The author, quite simply, can turn a phrase. The prose has this kind of loose, jagged feel that if it were a hair less controlled, would feel completely atonal/jarring, but in the hands of a skilled writer - and the writing in this really is top-shelf - it's very, very good, the kind of writing you can just sink into. I found myself lingering over certain phrases, certain descriptions, which doesn't happen often. They were just... impressive. Visceral. And it's not the kind of writing that overwhelms you or drags you down, it's very approachable and easy to digest.

    Basically, the writing is what people who write purple prose think they're writing, and I mean that as a compliment.

    I know I'm definitely in the minority in that I care very much about the particulars of the writing, even over the story and characters and sometimes even the fandom, so here's what most people will be interested in:

    Female Sherlock and female Watson (Joan Watson, here), actually work... pretty fucking well. The author threads the needle almost perfectly. It's not just John Watson with a slightly different first name and a vagina, she's a fleshed out, real character. At the same time, she's very much not an OC. If you've seen the BBC show, if you can recall Watson's character in that, there's enough commonality where you can grasp it. Maybe if John Watson were born a girl, in a different time... it just works.

    Sherlock is also done really, really well. I particularly enjoyed the Sherlock PoV, as the narrative does a really fantastic job of giving you a glimpse of a person's mind who works on a really different level. Scattered, and brilliant. That thing where you have the sense in the show that Sherlock is just terribly, terribly bored, that it's his greatest fear - that's conveyed really, really well in this, but again from that female perspective that makes everything similar, but different.

    A small shout-out to Mycroft, Sherlock's sister (she's also gender-flipped). While she doesn't play a huge role, the dynamic between the sisters is just understated enough to work very well. And Mycroft herself is... pretty fascinating, honestly, from the brief glimpses we do get.

    There are a few downsides here.

    This is a flat-out romance fic. If you're looking for a really solid, engaging Sherlock-style mystery set in WWII with a background romance, this isn't it. The plot is simply not engaging enough, not compelling enough, to carry this. You've got to be kind of in it for the Sherlock/Watson thing. If you are, the plot is fine. It's not bad at all, and if you're suitably invested, the twists and turns hold together reasonably well. It's not... exciting, though.

    In particular, I felt like Moriarty fell pretty flat. Slight spoiler, it's a female Moriarty as well (though the genderbending stops there; it's just those four main characters who are women, IIRC). For such a compelling character in the show, this version just... too quick an introduction, too quickly resolved, and flat-out not charismatic enough when the narrative focused on her. Not jarringly bad or anything, but definitely a flat note.

    The romance falls victim to the classic trope where the most interesting part of the relationship is how it develops, before it really gets going. In the beginning, it was a classic page-turner. Really sharp stuff. It's still interesting enough in the middle third and the end, but it's the writing the carries it more and more as it goes along. It never got to the level of "predictable" but it did kind of stop surprising me and making me try to figure it out. Which is not a terrible thing, really. But I felt like once I grasped the weird quirks and insanity of WWII femWatson/femSherlock, I kind of got it, that I went from needing to read more to just... enjoying reading more, but not feeling that urge to keep going.

    A special shout-out to anyone who's a history buff - the author obviously knows her stuff and is very, very good on the details. Anyone with an interest in WWII in general or specifically WWII-era espionage or the state of Britain/France will probably get a kick out of attention to detail. And it's much appreciated that it's never in an infodump-y way (though there are extensive A/Ns about some of the details), but rather it folds organically into the story.

    One other thing to probably mention are the sex scenes. There are... rather a lot of them. And they're not terrible or cringy or anything, in fact they're written rather well. But they do kind of... go on. I flashed back to watching Blue is the Warmest Color where I thought, "man, this movie is really good and this is really tasteful but also brutally stark and real and that's cool and all but holy hell this scene has been going on for like three minutes." I had similar feelings here.

    And I suppose that's it.

    I'd say give this one a shot if you hit at least two of the following interest points -

    - Historical fiction
    - Interesting, messy femslash
    - The Sherlock characters without being married to their exact canon portrayal / time period
    - Really excellent, vivid, descriptively impressive writing

    And probably give it a pass entirely if you don't like stories that are romance-centric and/or feature a relationship between two women.

    For me, this is a very strong 4/5. I'd bump it to 5/5 if the romance kept surprising me up until the end, or the mystery was a little more compelling, but still, this is a good story. Very good.

  2. Quiddity

    Quiddity Unspeakable

    Apr 14, 2014
    New Zealand
    Is that really true on this site? I feel like almost the thesis of DLP is a focus on the underlying talent/quality rather than the particulars. Sure, I have opinions, little things I prefer to see, but seeing someone whose opinion I trust wax lyrically about the writing is the best recommendation a fic can have.

    Hell, if you gush about a Naruto, I'll grit my teeth and bookmark it.

    That is to say, thanks, I'll check it out sometime.
  3. Newcomb

    Newcomb Headmaster

    Sep 28, 2013
    The Evergreen State
    Hmm, I didn't word that particularly well.

    I meant it in the negative sense about me in particular - in that I will overlook fairly large negatives in terms of plot / story choices if the writing is good.

    I think DLP in general does care more about the writing than other places; I do also think that most people have some hard lines as far as "won't read certain kinds of fics," whereas I do not. If the writing's good enough, I'll read about almost any subject.

    I've said this before, but if Inverarity wrote Harry/Snape slash, I'd read it.
  4. Dark Syaoran

    Dark Syaoran Golden Patronus Admin

    Jun 4, 2005
    Anyone else read this and willing to review?
  5. mdatot

    mdatot First Year

    Mar 17, 2016
    Stockholm, Sweden
    High Score:
    I've read a number of chapters and it's what Newcomb says it is, pretty much. If "genderswapped Sherlock Holmes as an agent in WW2" doesn't immediately make you head for the door, you should probably check it out, because it's good. Very AO3, for lack of a better term, but good. Some people watch movies to pass the time; I read bizarre AU's that have really nothing in common with the source material (see f.ex. my perennial favorite, Mark MacKinnon's The Shadow Chronicles), oftentimes without being familiar with the source material at all, and this is one of those. The characters are sort of recognizable but really, this is a lesbian romance novel set during WW2. And that's fine! Just not what you might be expecting or wanting, if you're looking for Sherlock Holmes fanfic.

    The prose gets sort of confusing sometimes, when the author goes almost stream-of-consciousness on you, but it's kind of a good problem to have and the writing is otherwise excellent.

    4/5, as fiction in its own right. Could stand to have more of a plot, but really, you're not here for that.
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2017
  6. T3t

    T3t Purple Beast of DLP Prestige DLP Supporter

    Jan 21, 2011
    Los Angeles
    High Score:
    I wish I could like this more.

    Unfortunately the prose just barely steps over the line to "difficult" without commensurate payout, at least for the first half of the story (after which I stopped reading).

    Sherlock is very powerfully characterized; perhaps if Watson had been similarly compelling I would have muddled through. YMMV. 3/5