Thursday, 17 December 2009
Review: OF THE CITY OF THE SAVED...
Spin-off Faction Paradox novel by Philip Purser-Hallard, 2004
It might be uncharitable to note that I read crashingly mundane ‘filler’ NA White Darkness prior to Of the City of the Saved..., which could be seen as doing Purser-Hallard an enormous favour. But, to be honest, he doesn’t need it. Of the City of the Saved... is a fantastic novel. And I use the word novel strategically – the density of information and imagination it contains is comparable to Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, or Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. In other words, the book is considerably more of a literary achievement than the majority of Doctor Who related books.
In fact, it seems rather tragic that, arguably being part of a niche within a niche, so few people relatively speaking will come to read it. I’m a real fan of the Faction Paradox novels, not least because they derive from Lawrence Miles’ creations, but they’re also of an unfeasibly high quality; Erasing Sherlock, Warring States, and Daniel O’Mahony’s Newtons Sleep (sic) all have quite a lot more going for them than the majority of the concurrent BBC Doctor Who ‘proper’ novels. I have no idea how widely-read or well-received these books have been within fandom, but they are completely worth checking them out; I believe you can buy them from the publisher's website.
In its sheer invention, this book threatens to out-Miles Lawrence, as well as having much in common with the wittier style of Miles’ earlier books like (the equally ace) Christmas on a Rational Planet and Alien Bodies – a sense of humour defuses the potential for the novel to become mired in its own creativity, and enhances rather than defuses enjoyment of the book. The City itself is such an endlessly fascinating concept, with a level of information constantly maintained that I at least found fascinating and highly enjoyable (although I realise this could have easily become self-indulgent). The experience of reading this book is enormously compulsive, so I finished it in little over two days; compare and contrast with the equivalent enjoyment derived from Miles' magnum opus, Interference.
One of the most satisfying aspects of the novel was its great numbers of twists – several of which served as red herrings – the majority of which, satisfyingly, I had in no way predicted, the bombardment of general information being somewhat helpful to the whodunit set-up. If there are ever further series of more adult-oriented Doctor Who books than the BBC’s current output, I’d love to see Purser-Hallard’s name on one of the spines – or, in fact (why not?) as part of the current range. The couple of explicitly Doctor Who-related references that I noticed (to the series, as opposed to the EDAs) – the half-Androgum cook, and the appearance of a Mechanoid in the attack at the end – suggest something of an abiding love for the series, so the BBC could do far worse than commission PP-H.
The sheer amount of information, though undoubtedly one of the novel’s strongest points, and part of its uniqueness, is something of a double-edged sword in that it does impact slightly negatively on the novel’s characters. Which is not to say that they aren’t likeable, etc, but does perhaps hold the novel back from absolute greatness. Nevertheless, it’s definitely up there with the best of Doctor Who fiction, and I recommend it wholeheartedly, although any fans of White Darkness out there might want to locate something with a little less originality.