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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UNNATURAL HISTORY by Jon Blum and Kate Orman
Superb. Thank you, God.
After Seeing I, we weren't expecting Unnatural History to be anything but terrific. And we were right - it's page-turningly, satisfyingly excellent from go to whoa. While the plot and milieu are fine, it's in characterisation that this novel really scores.
Seeing I is the only novel in which Sam has really breathed, and here the authors work the same magic on Dark Sam. Dark Sam's relationships, with Blonde Sam (even if only conceptually), with Fitz and with the Doctor, are fantastic. Yes, we said the Doctor. We're not in the "no sex please, we're Who" camp: as far as we're concerned, whatever the TV background these are novels designed to be read by adults, and we want to see adult relationships, not read about some bizarre universe where you can pile up the corpses by the thousands but a kiss is strictly verboten.
Some of the authors in the EDA line have handled Sam's attraction to the Doctor with a kind of nudge-nudge snigger that makes us cringe, but here Blum and Orman tackle the subject with straightforwardness and sensitivity, developing a believable relationship which still manages not to bend the Doctor out of shape. Indeed, it's tempting to say that we'd rather keep Dark Sam, were it not for the fact that Seeing I Sam is just as compelling a character. Fitz is also very well served here, and gets some terrific character development.
We'd give Unnatural History five blobs for the relationships alone, but there's lots more here to enjoy too. We particularly liked the sly references to everything from Vertigo to folksongs. We loved the Wild Hunt and its effect on Sam, and the way the authors picked up the thead of biodata first mentioned in Alien Bodies and ran with it.
After finding Faction Paradox a bit irritating in Alien Bodies, we really enjoyed their involvement here. Although we didn't find his motivation very convincing, we loved the fact that the villain wasn't a Being of Matchless Evil Bent on Ending the Universe but instead was a scientist like the Doctor himself, and we also liked the other scientist, Professor Joyce, and his conversations with the Doctor about the morality of scientific inquiry.
The book is full of wonderful secondary characters like Kyra and the Henches, and fabulous SF concepts which feel startlingly original. It's also permeated with a dry, glancing humour which is a refreshing change in an often deadly serious, angst-ridden genre.
We love it. Love it, love it, love it.