A Monstrous Regiment of Women

A Monstrous Regiment of Women is a novel written by Laurie R. King in 1995, and it is accompanying me as I march around our living room floor in this coldest of Januaries in 2021.

I'd read it before: it's one of some dozen of books in King's historical fantasy series about Mary Russell, who as a girl and woman becomes involved with Sherlock Holmes in 1915, when Holmes is retired in Sussex and aged 55, and Mary a neighborhood child of 15. For the most part, the series is like candy or Dr. Who at its most basic. There's a hero who is strange and unfathomable, mostly on the side of right but with some darker, private areas; and then there's a companion/partner, who in her attempts to suss the hero out, allows the reader/viewer to run around falling into increasingly dangerous circumstances that end more or less with the hero and companion intact. Lots of insight into the 1920s politics and cultural milieu in Europe but also many other locales. Great fun and I gobbled them up before and during the lockdown of 2020 (I'm still locked down, but that's beside the point). My walking buddy Olivia was reading them about the same time, and in one of our tramps in the woods said she didn't like the "religious one." Her comment inspired me to listen to it, to pay attention, and try to suss out what she meant.

Meta Data

A Monstrous Regiment of Women takes its title from an essay by the Scottish reformer and firebrand John Knox, "The First Blast of the Trumpet against the monstrous regiment of Women," written in 1558.

  • Knox wrote "To promote a Woman to bear rule, superiority, dominion or empire above any realm, nation or city is A. Repugnant to nature, B. Contumely to GOD, and C. The subversion of good order, of all equity and justice."

Not a fan of women in leadership roles was he? But after all, Knox's 16th-century morality was somewhat dim, not to say deranged, anyway. Monstrous Regiment takes place in 1921, in London, at the height of the Dada and flapper movements, while young people of the Lost Generation are dancing their lives away trying to forget the death and damage of the WWI trenches.

Themes in A Monstrous Regiment

The book features several intriguing topics. Mary Russell is a biblical scholar who is struggling with the same issue as Harriet Vane did in Dorothy Sayers' Gaudy Night. Like Harriet, Russell has her own "gaudy knight" who disrupts her natural inclination to be intimately involved with and even wedded to a Doctor-Who-like figure. It's a risky proposition, as Harriet Vane found, leaving behind a company of scholars for the wild ride with a single mate. Pretty tasty.

Apart from that, Russell gets involved with a pseudo-religious society, you could call it a cult, a Chautauqua style meeting delivery system, or a nascent women's liberation sect. It's all of those things. The woman who founded the sect helps and empowers poor and uneducated women in the murky streets of London in 1921. Russell's discussion with her includes a long discourse on gender-biased translations of the Old and New Testaments is one of the book's highlights.

But you also get to experience the tangled underworld of the city, made up in part of wounded shell-shocked WWI soldiers. And, of course, the delicious Sherlock Holmes in a besotted state.


There's a murder mystery, and all ends well. Neither one of those is a spoiler, I'm sure. The book was originally published in 1995 (it was KIng's second book in the Russell/Holmes series), and the version I read this time around was the audio version published by Recorded Books in 2014 and read by Jenny Sterlin. Like Gaudy Night, the novel is startling in its intensity and depth, and if like me you've been feeding yourself on Sayer's Wimsey or Conan Doyle's Holmes, the novel is unsettlingly uncheerful. To be honest, I like A Monstrous Regiment of Women much more now that I've read it properly. Lots of material for distracting minds away from the horrors of the current situation. Dontcha know?

“Do you find it easy to get drunk on words?" "So easy that, to tell you the truth, I am seldom perfectly sober." That's a quote from Gaudy Night. Now, I need to go convince my friend that she should give the Monstrous Regiment another chance.

Created by KKris. Last Modification: Sunday 24 of January, 2021 08:24:58 EST by KKris.