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January 16th, 2013

“A Study In Magic” by Book of Changes

Gioia’s Rec:
I’ve seen “A Study In Magic” on the “favorites” lists of several authors whom I follow.  However, I had skipped over it each time, mistaking it for Vixit’s wonderful Harry Potter/Sherlock Holmes crossover story by the same name (which is also recommended here).  Eventually my brain kicked in and I realized this was a completely different story.  And what a gripping story it is!

Other than the shared title and the inclusion of Harry, this story has nothing in common with Vixit’s story.  They aren’t even based on the same Sherlock Holmes series.  Vixit’s story is based on the original Sherlock Holmes books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Book of Changes’ story is based on the 2010 BBC series by Steven Moffat.  You don’t need to know anything about any Sherlock Holmes series in order to enjoy this tale.

In this story, Harry was adopted into the Holmes home when he was 9-years-old, following a frightening, Moriarty-instigated conclusion to his time with the Dursleys (which coincides with the Sherlock episode “The Great Game“).  To make the chronology between the two series match up, and for the purpose of including some fantastic plot developments, the author has advanced the Harry Potter timeline to modern day.  (I’ve seen that done badly in the past. Here, the author nails it.)  Harry’s first two years with Holmes & Watson are primarily backstory, as “A Study in Magic” opens with Harry’s receipt of his Hogwarts letter.  From there, the story follows the books very closely.  As of this writing (January 2013), “A Study in Magic” is up to the summer before Goblet of Fire.

All of that is just the skeleton of this story. What makes it absolutely gripping is the author’s enormous skill in sucking the reader into nail-biting plots and sweet, heart-warming moments with her extremely well-developed characters.  You will care about these characters, even the OCs (Original Characters) or side characters. You will be utterly absorbed by their lives – the big adventures, the little worries, the day-to-day, mundane details – all of it.  Few authors can achieve that.  Too many are good at one type of story telling (adventure, romance, coming of age, etc.), but do a dreadful job of trying to blend multiple types of stories without leaving dull spots for readers to trudge through.  I can’t begin to count how many stories I end up skimming through just to get to the good parts.   There was no skimming here.  I stayed up obscenely late three nights in a row in order to devote my undivided attention to “A Study in Magic.”  And I’m tempted to start re-reading it right now. (Seriously.)

Another aspect of this story which I think deserves a lot of praise is the author’s subtle inclusion of faith elements.  If you don’t consider yourself a religious person, fear not: this should not be a turn-off.  The author has characters discuss many fascinating historical issues, including whether muggle-born children raised in Judaism, Islam, Christianity or even atheism are better able to adapt to discovering they are magical.  There’s no proselytizing here.  Instead, you’ll see the wizarding world studied by Watson and Holmes from the perspective of outsiders, and that study does include moments when they (and others) examine how various belief systems address magic.  There are also a handful of individuals in this story for whom their faith is an integral part of their characterization. Again, the mentions are brief, and so organically blended into the story, that they don’t feel preachy. Rather, it is just another example of how the author writes wonderfully 3-dimensional characters with fully-developed backgrounds.

As one can see from glancing through KIA’s recs, most of us rarely recommend incomplete stories here. (The last time I counted, only 3% of my own recs were for incomplete stories.)  However, “A Study in Magic” is too amazing not to recommend is as it stands.  If it had been separated out into a separate book per school year, as was done with the HP books, you would have the first 3 books completed.  And if you know the HP series well enough to remember where Prisoner of Azkaban ended, you should recall that it did not end on a cliffhanger.  This story isn’t stalled on a cliffhanger, either.  The author also seems to be updating very frequently – roughly weekly, from what I can tell.  So you should have no reason to be concerned about this story going MIA, or about it ending abruptly on a cliffhanger.

If you’ve never tried HP fanfiction, this would be a great story to start with.  It is fresh, exciting, extremely intelligent, completely thrilling, and not at all a repetitious rehash of either the original HP books or Sherlock episodes.  It is one of the few stories that successfully blends technology into a magical world, while still maintaining the charm and whimsy that make wizarding Britain so delightful.  If the plot doesn’t amaze you, the characterizations will.  I’m convinced that anyone who tries this will love it as much as I did.

Author’s Warning/Notes: This is a BBC Sherlock and Harry Potter crossover AU. The HP timeline and BBC Sherlock’s timeline has been shifted forwards and backwards to match up. One major BBC Sherlock character’s gender has changed for the sake of the plot. The story was planned and written before season 2 (but incorporating elements of thereof as much as possible). Readers beware! (Gioia’s Note: This is not a slash story.)

One Response to ““A Study In Magic” by Book of Changes”

  1. brad Says:

    I can’t agree with this glowing review. I believe that ‘A Study in Magic’ suffers from three major flaws.

    Firstly, the Harry Potter novels weren’t written by Rowling as a ‘mystery’ or ‘whodunnit’ series. Rowling was never honest with her readers; she never gave them all the pieces of the puzzle. We never knew that Harry’s touch could kill or that Sorting Hats could magically materialise swords or unknown Priori Incantatem effects of brother wands conjure protective phoenix cages until after the fact. It’s no coincidence that Rowling needed a penultimate ‘Dumbledore explains everything needed to make sense of it all’ chapter in practically *every one* of her novels. She even had the audacity to write one such after he was dead and buried! Such was the desperate requirement to fill in all of the blanks right at the very end of each of her works.

    So I’m finding the combination of Harry Potter and Sherlock universes a poorer fit the further Book of Changes writes his story. There’s no real *evidence* for Sherlock to use! Too much that Rowling deliberately hid from her readers until the surprise endings. Sherlock *shone* at the start of ‘A Study in Magic’ as he out-deduced all the wizards in integrating the muggle world with theirs. But now he’s up to speed and thus slowed down with the rest of them, all waiting for canon facts that Rowling deliberately kept up her sleeve because otherwise her poor little ‘mysteries’ would have surprised no-one at all.

    And that’s frustrating to read.

    My second growing irritation with ‘A Study in Magic’ lies with the deliberate gender change of the major Sherlock character. Gioia didn’t spoil the character’s identity in her review so I’ll be similarly circumspect here. The gender change makes less and less sense the more you read of ‘A Study in Magic’. Harder and harder for me to reconcile with the characters from the TV show.

    I’m enjoying the activities of the altered character in the story. But the author has pushed that gender change pretty much as far as it can go. The character has undergone one of the ultimate experiences of the character’s new sex. And I just can’t reconcile this - the open knowledge of the character’s real gender in the story - with the contrary remnants of the BBC series (starting with the character’s unaltered common name) which now contradict the character’s true nature so markedly. The gender switch has become something of a farce. The fanfic author tried to explain, to justify, the contradictions … but it just doesn’t work. For me or for the other people in the story, who embarrassingly are written not to notice the dinosaur in the room.

    My final frustration with ‘A Study in Magic’ derives from the blatant introduction and use of an entire family of ‘Mary Sue’ characters. This isn’t a story about Harry Potter. It certainly isn’t a story about Sherlock Holmes.

    It’s a story about the Shin family. The awesome asians who are so awesomely awesome they out-awesome every else in both merged universes. They don’t exist in the BBC world, nor the HP universe. The Awesome Shins are in this story because Book of Changes apparently just likes writing about these awesome Mary Sues.

    In any HP story Albus Dumbledore is pretty much top of the heap when it comes to powerful wizards. Sometimes Voldemort is half a rung higher. But not in this story. No, Grandmaster Shin is the God of ‘A Study in Magic’. Everyone is in awe of his awesome awesomeness. From Dumbledore down:

    “Your power is something else,” said Dumbledore, almost in awe.

    Well. If Albus Dumbledore is in awe of this awesome Mary Sue, what choice do we mortal readers have?

    Grandmaster Shin has super-powers beyond any HP character. He has magic unknown, apparently, by every other wizard in the UK. He can teleport into Hogwarts - another canon law broken. When Sherlock and John agonise over whom they can consult on the matter of Harry’s scar they have this exchange:

    “We need to talk to an expert,” he said.

    “Dumbledore?” asked John, taking Benedict from him.

    “No,” said Sherlock, texting two-handed now, “Grandmaster Shin.”

    Of course.

    The omnipotence of the awesome Shins gets tiring after a while. Which is my main source of frustration with their presence in ‘A Study in Magic’.

    Grandmaster Shin is so awesome his mere *presence* at the Quidditch World Cup stops the Death Eaters in their tracks. They don’t dare get up to their canon shenanigans with this ultimate Mary Sue around!

    But it’s the offence of shoving in a whole *family* of awesome Mary Sues into the story which aggravates me. It doesn’t stop with Grandmaster Shin. Cecilia Shin, to quote an Author’s Note, “looks like Brigitte Lin of Asia Invincible fame”. Well, I don’t know the reference, but the ‘invincible’ adjective serves just as well as ‘awesome’ for my needs in describing these Mary Sues. We’re told that Cecilia had super-strong magic and was pretty much the best student/warrior/witch that Hogwarts ever produced. Of course. She’s one of Book of Change’s awesome Shin family of awesome Mary Sues.

    Miss Jackie Shin doesn’t have awesome magic. And yet she does. She can clone herself - more awesome oriental magic no-one else in the HP world ever heard of. And she can do other things no-one else can do. She’s a super-genius. The *only person* in the world who has ever thought - ever! - of merging muggle technology with magic. The ONLY PERSON. Really.

    John Watson is a good doctor but he tells us that Awesome Shin (soon by marriage) #4, Dr. Robert Ju, is also an awesome doctor of unmatched skills. Plus the awesome doctor can - of course - perform feats that no other person (other than another Awesome Shin) can reproduce. He can also teleport into Hogwarts. He - as well as Awesome Shin #5, Jeremy Shin - can Apparate transcontinental distances in the blink of an eye, something we’re told is pretty awesome. He has super-strong magic.

    I have particular vehemence for Dr. Ju. In one of the most recent chapters of this fan fiction story Harry was hit hard with the discovery of his being a Horcrux. It was traumatic stuff. ‘Book of Changes’ is an excellent author who was doing wonderful work in wringing out the angst. Harry *knew* that he *had to die* to destroy the Horcrux. He had to tell his friends about it. Adjust to the notion of death for the greater good. Find solace with his foster parents.

    Wonderful stuff. Wonderful writing.

    But in the *very next chapter* - perhaps once removed - Awesome Dr. Ju offers to relieve Harry of this burden. We’re first told he’s the only one that can DESTROY the horcrux, due to his awesome awesomeness. But then he goes one step further and volunteers to TRANSFER the soul remnant from Harry’s scar to himself.

    A noble gesture. Which makes Dr. Ju one of the heroes of this story.

    But, sadly, also serves to continue the author’s penchant for focusing on this group of favoured Mary Sues to the detriment of the actual principal protagonists of the two universes he’s sourced for his story.

    Where was I? Oh, Julia of the Shins. Book of Changes has been coy about the romantic pairings between the Hogwarts kids, only saying that they won’t be canon.

    Please. It’s a forgone conclusion.

    As the only awesome Shin close to Harry’s age Julia of the extended Shin family will, of course, pair off with Harry. And she IS awesome. In addition to wielding a wand she also carries around the paper magic of her awesome grandfather. SHE BANISHED PEEVES. No character from Harry Potter *ever* did this. She’s also proving to be just as clever as Hermione (of course).

    Well, I think I’ve vented enough. Mary Sues can do that to one. :-) And when one is presented with an entire FAMILY of the impossibly powerful, impossibly awesome characters, one can’t help but roll one’s eyes in exasperation.

    Book of Changes is an excellent author. But he is an author on a mission. To write a story about a family of Awesome Mary Sues. Oh, and the story just happens to feature someone called Harry Potter and someone called Sherlock.

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