John: It's been a while since we've had a book this good, hasn't it? I mean, it's been a while since we've had one as bad as 'The Pit', but this one really does make you sit up and take notice.
Dee: Yes, and I have a confession to make about this one...
Dee: ...I reread this one three times for fun before writing my blog entry. I think that was against the rules or something...
John: I'm spending all my intervening time between blog entries re-reading the Doctor Who books author by author. I'm not sure I can really judge you there.
Dee: Still. It's that good. I wanted more, but she knew when to end it.
John: It really is one of the best debut novels in the whole range. The opening sequence, the murder of John Lennon, is absolutely riveting. It's like a splash of cold water in the face, waking you up and getting you to pay attention. And yet it doesn't feel exploitative in any way. I can see how some people might feel like that, especially since the death of Lennon is within the lifetime of the reading audience, but it's done with such intensity that you feel like Kate feels it as strongly as you do. Like she picked it because it was personal.
Dee: Further confession: it's within my own memory. The colossal outpouring of pure grief was amazing. I remember it keenly and yeah, there was a hell of a lot of emotional energy there. It makes sense within the novel's framework, it makes sense with the characters, and it seems fitting: the reason the Doctor didn't save Lennon is because it's partially his fault, in that universe. It's a real gut-punch.
John: The whole book is a gut-punch. I can't think of another book, certainly not of another author, that does such a good job of creating such an immersive, vivid, emotionally wrenching experience. The Doctor is vulnerable in a way that he's never been before (maybe a few times since, but you never forget your first time) and it absolutely gets at you. Everything feels desperate. The stakes feel so high, because if Huitzilin can do this to the Doctor--and not just any Doctor but the Seventh Doctor, one of the most scary Doctors of all of them--then how is anyone going to get out of this alive?
Dee: Yep...we understand Benny's urge to ditch the whole thing back in the 60s. This one makes you feel the probability of disaster like few others. They're doing their best to pull togeth, but when Benny starts swinging that frying pan and Ace does what she does and the Doctor is dropping acid and shrooms... Wow.
John: Yeah. By the end, you can totally understand why the Doctor decides to stage the final confrontation on the Titanic, just in case. But it's not really just "just in case", is it? This is where you start seeing a recurring theme in Kate's Doctor Who novels, this idea that on some level the Doctor wants to go through these ordeals. He almost seems to welcome the suffering, because deep down he feels like he might deserve it. Let's face it, after some 200 adventures full of death and destruction, the Doctor has to be suffering from some epic survivor guilt.
Dee: Cornell explicitly went there back in T:R, with Five being crucified.
John: Yes, but that was more intended to be the Doctor suppressing his conscience. With Kate, it feels more like the Doctor has a secret death wish.
Dee: Well, he's tired, and he screwed up Ace. I think he has more of a make-it-stop wish, really.
John: I think it goes a bit beyond that. I think he really does feel like he deserves to suffer. You see it a bit more in Kate's next book, perhaps, but even here there are points--like right before jingle-jangle time--where it seems like he wants to find the solution that will cause him the most pain and suffering. Because he's dished out so much of it that he almost feels like it's his turn to hurt.
Dee: No argument except that suffering and death are not the same, and some would argue that death for a Time Lord could be a fate worse than life... Because your next regeneration might care even more.
John: And it's crazy to think that this comes just three books off of 'Iceberg'. It really is Paul Cornell all over again. This is just an author that is operating on a whole different level of talent.
Dee: And it's so unbelievably readable.
John: Oh gods yes. This is one of those books that practically inserts little hooks into your eyeballs and drags you through it. You wince, you whimper, you want to give every single character in it a big hug, but you cannot. Stop. Reading. (Which is another interesting thing--since this happens mid-arc, there's very little catharsis at the end. Some people have accused Kate of writing "hurt/comfort" fiction, but this is very much "hurt/comfort" without the "comfort".)
Dee: Except for Christian and Ben, who make me happy.
John: Yes. This is, in a lot of ways, Cristian's story. And on that level, it's beautiful. He's one of the best-written guest characters I think I've ever read in the series.
And while I think we could both gush even more about this one, we do have to get on to another one I really like, 'Conundrum'! Join us next time for superheroes, deadly board games, and Doctor Who's other grandchildren!