19 June 2017: The Eaters of Light review added.
11 June 2017: Empress Of Mars review added.
6 June 2017: Extremis/Pyramid At The End Of The World/Lie Of The Land review added.
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DEMONTAGE by Justin Richards
Oh, dear. Another in the growing pile of Eighth Doctor Adventures That Are Rapidly Making Us Lose the Will to Live.
It's not that Richards is a particularly bad writer. His prose is serviceable enough, if not inspiring. And there are some nice things about the world of Vega Station that he creates. We love the hitman who makes all his decisions on the throw of a dice, and we enjoyed the Canvine at the opera, even though it didn't seem to be connected to anything else. And the central Big Idea about the paintings, and the paintings themselves, are impressive.
Richards is known for his plotting. Good plotting's undeniably a good thing, with reservations. The first reservation is that a plot that depends on twists walks a tightrope. The twists have to surprise the reader, but they also can't seem to come from nowhere. The problem we found with Demontage was that none of the twists surprised us even slightly. Richards prepares the ground too well, with the effect that we could see every single "surprise" thundering towards us long before it arrived. In a book that depends for its entertainment value on the revealing of these surprises, this was, you could say, a bit of a drawback.
The second reservation is that concentration on plot shouldn't come at the expense of character. Demontage's secondary characters are quite well drawn, although some of them lurch rather unconvincingly from good to bad and vice versa. But his primary characters are a disaster. The Doctor's absent for long stretches, and when he does appear, he's unrecognisable. His dialogue and, in the main, his actions couldn't be more wrong. It's a major disappointment.
Sam is better, but we can't help feeling that since the introduction of Fitz EDA authors have lost whatever interest in her they had. It's Fitz that gets the interesting scenes and the fun things to do, and given that so far we loathe Fitz, we think this is a bad, bad thing.
It's hard to judge whether Fitz is well drawn by Richards, because to us he seems completely unreal. There's nothing about him that indicates the time he comes from, or the fact he's just lost his mother and been whisked up from Earth and catapulted across the universe. Fans have moaned about Sam and her goody-goodyness, but at least the issues she's concerned about give her a recognisable context that helps her feel like a real person. Fitz has nothing of this and we have trouble keeping awake whenever he strolls onto the page.
There's some other stuff here we don't like either. We're bored by the Casino Royale retread feel of Vega, down to the silly Bond Girl name of Vermilion Kenyan. We don't like the way Richards brings in promising concepts, only to have them peter out into nothing. And a gambling competition between the Doctor and Fitz? We don't think so.
Obvious plot twists and a rubbish Doctor. Very disappointing.