As the 12th installment in the Mary Russell series, this book does not disappoint. When I discovered the Beekeeper's Apprentice during college, I immediately admired the smart, strong, and courageous woman that King created as an equal to the brilliant Sherlock Holmes. It has been nice to see her character grow up and develop since the series started in Mary's teens and I believe now she is almost 30. Her perception of the world changes with her age in the stories and I think that is one of the most interesting things about her character. Since Mary is also very detail focused and observant, the details she immediately picks up on shift slightly as she ages. She is the heroine, so she always picks up on the clues that need to be picked up on, but I think it was very smart of King to alter what kinds of things Mary picks up in her first sweep of a scene and her second sweep.
Unlike some of King's other books, Garment of Shadows picks up immediately following the events of the Pirate King. Holmes and Mary are still in Morocco but have stumbled upon a political plot involving the Rif Rebellion and the French protectorate. Meeting up with some old friends from Justice Hall and O, Jerusalem, Mary and Holmes have to figure out who is attempting to harm Marechel Lyautney and the Emir. To make things more difficult Mary has been knocked on the head and seems to have lost her memory.
The story is winding and often doubles back on itself in an attempt to revive Mary's mind, but I also think that the twisting story is employed as a way to describe Fez itself. The descriptions of the town, especially the roads and narrow passages between buildings lend themselves to the maze of political intrigue King has created. I do think it's a little cliche to have Mary lose her memory, but I have to commend the author for not falling into that kind of trap in any of the 11 books that preceeded. Mary has had other memory issues in previous books, but more the kind of traumatic black out that is a good basis for mystery. Having your main character show up 15 pages in without any memory of who she is or what's she's doing felt hollow to me. King did make it as plausible a head injury as possible and made other characters suspicious of the amnesia precisely because it sounded like a plot out of ladies novel.
I tend to enjoy the books in this series that are set in more exotic locations the most because of the sumptuousness of King's descriptions (seriously now I want to go to Morocco) but any of the books in this series are excellent in their writing and description. Her books are also self contained history lessons. As a reader you can tell that a detailed level of research went into the planning for each the stories because many of the events that Holmes is called in to help with relate to international politics following WWI. If you read any of the original Holmes stories you will appreciate how King has really brought the character of Mycroft Holmes to life, even when he's not actually appearing in a particular novel. WWI strained the relationships between the European countries and since Mycroft basically runs the British government behind the scenes it makes sense that where-ever Mary and Holmes go, Mycroft would have an interest in their adventures.
However, not everything in this story goes according the plan. Suspecting traitors all around them Mary and Holmes need to protect themselves and the Marechel (who happens to be a distant cousin). But personal feelings and attachments can get in the way of the most well thought out political maneuver.
All in all I really enjoyed this book. I wish it was longer so that I could have spent more time immersed in Mary's world. Now I'll just have to hope that King comes out with another fabulous book soon.