THE SCARLET EMPRESS by Paul Magrs

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One word. Wow. No, wait a minute, another two: Iris Wildthyme.

What an incredible character - even without Magrs's Afterword, it would have been obvious that she'd been around in his mind for years, since she's so detailed and complex. She's fabulous, her TARDIS is fabulous, and the whole book becomes fabulous. The plot of Scarlet Empress isn't its strong point, but who cares? It's the milieu and the characters that it's worth reading for, and a stronger plot would almost have got in the way. If you're expecting the standard fireworks ending, you'll be disappointed, but we didn't miss it.

Following the characters through the world of Hyspero is like entering a dream state. Half remembered bits from other worlds, from Lewis Carroll to fairytales to video games, keep cropping up, and the plot meanders along in the way dreams do. (We thought we were very intellectual spotting the magic realism and all the literary references, then Magrs spoiled it all by listing them at the end. Bugger.)

Scarlet Empress is a book that's more than the sum of its parts. We felt as if we were skimming the surface of a richly imagined world that set up echoes still reverberating in our minds days later. It's quite a departure from the usual strict science of the DW world, but it works brilliantly. A work of great charm and originality.

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