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THE ADVENTURESS OF HENRIETTA STREET by Lawrence Miles
We couldn't wait for this one. Alien Bodies is the pick of the EDA range as far as we're concerned, and Interference while flawed is still a great book. We were dying to see what else Miles had up his sleeve in his much-ballyhooed return to the range.
So it was particularly sad to discover how disappointing The Adventuress Of Henrietta Street is.
There's a long novel in here, masquerading as a normal EDA by dint of an eensy typeface and use of every available page in the book. Good, fine, lots of value for money - except that the length turns into a drawback. A pseudohistorical, the novel purports to be pieced together by an anonymous narrator from contemporary documents. It's a daring experiment, but one which we think falls flat on its face.
Granted, there's lots of good stuff in here: we're a lot further forward in understanding what kind of situation the Doctor finds himself in post-Ancestor Cell, and it's a very intriguing direction. Traditionalists might squawk, but personally we've got absolutely no objection. Sabbath, too, is an enjoyably complex new villain, and we're looking forward to seeing where other authors take him. The historical background is meticulously charted and impeccable: Miles has done a lot of research, and he wants to make damned well sure we know it. Characters and setting have a lot of potential, and Miles has clearly gone to a lot of trouble to develop them. And the novel has a hugeness of scope that's quintessentially Miles's - and no one else's.
The trouble is, though, that praiseworthy as all this is, all of it put together can't save a book which was fatally flawed in its conception. The historical-research style is beautifully written, but frankly, it couldn't be duller. We slogged our way dutifully through every page: it was never less than a chore, and we closed the book with a heartfelt sigh of relief. The style can never be any less than distancing: the narrator is guessing at motivations and even at the events themselves, so we can never get close enough to the characters to care about them at all. Big stuff happens, but a long way away, and this combined with the murky mysteriousness of a lot of what was going on meant that we had no stake in it whatsoever. The entire house at Henrietta Street could have snapped off and sunk into the Thames and we would have just shrugged.
And that, as far as we're concerned, is unforgivable. It's got to engage, or what's the point? Furthermore, we're not doing an Open University course on the history of Gallifrey - these novels are supposed to be entertainment, for God's sake! No matter how worthy various aspects of a book are, if they don't add up into an entertaining read the book's failed in its primary purpose.
The Adventuress Of Henrietta Street is, God help us, required reading just because of the things it does to the Doctor's universe. But that doesn't mean we have to like it. Admire it, yes. No problem. But that's by no means enough.