I've read 'Legacy' at least five times now. I read it shortly after it came out when I was buying every New Adventure I could get my hands on, I read it again when I got caught up and read the series in order to see how it all fit together, I read it when Virgin finally finished their run and I was reading the entire sixty-one book series as a whole, I read it when I was reading all of Gary Russell's novels back-to-back, and I read it for this blog. I may have read it additional times, although certainly not for pleasure. But it's at least five. And I have to admit, there's never been a time where I haven't struggled mightily to find anything good to say about the book.
It's not that there's no good ideas in there. Russell chooses to set the book well after both of the televised Peladon stories, picking up the relationship between the Federation and the Pels at a point when there are some tough questions to ask about whether the Federation's stewardship was an enlightened effort to bring civilization to a backwards planet or simply a means of exploiting an indigenous population for their natural resources. There's interesting material in that choice, especially since the Federation has always stood in as an allegory for a united Europe, and the European Union has always been a body more united in theory than in practice.
But that material never lives up to its potential. Which is a shame, because it's just about the only thing that has potential in what essentially amounts to a mound of words written to meet page count requirements more than anything else. Russell has two plots going on, neither one of which has enough material to sustain a full-length novel, and so he pads the book out to the required number of pages with tedious backstories of characters we're not given reasons to care about and endless digressions that come from nowhere and go nowhere. He confuses incident with plot, obfuscation with mystery and familiarity with significance, leading to a story that's clearly intended to be a landmark epic but which fades from the memory within moments.
The obvious problem is that it's woefully underwritten. The story doesn't even really start until page 75--everything prior to that is redundant backstory that's either irrelevant or restated later in the novel. There are numerous digressions to scenes that could have been alluded to, long conversations about characters from the previous Peladon stories that don't mean anything to this novel, and at least one sequence that seems to be there solely to show that Doctor Who books can have sex scenes now. A good trim for content would have cut this down to a novella.
Worse, it's not even good as a novella. It's presented as a murder mystery, but the only reason that there's any confusion at all over whodunnit is because Russell writes multiple scenes without specifying who's acting, and because the Doctor decides not to tell everyone who the killer is for seventy-three pages because Reasons. A good mystery should make you re-read the book with a new understanding of events; as mentioned, I've read 'Legacy' and still neither know nor care who's doing what for the middle third of the book.
And of course, no review of 'Legacy' would be complete without pointing out the obvious--Russell assumes that his potboiler murder mystery is made more significant simply by setting it on a planet that the Doctor has visited before and making numerous references to his previous adventures there. It's clear that he expects us to be cheering the return of Alpha Centauri, the Citadel, Mount Megeshra, Lady Lianna, the trisilicate refinery, et cetera et cetera, and to be comparing Atissa and Tarrol to the other High Priests and Kings we've seen in the previous iterations of this plot. But there's no genuine emotional resonance to any of it, just the mistaken belief that nostalgia can substitute for meaning.
I will say that Gary Russell gets better over the years. (I will also say that his strength still lies as a producer, a role he's thankfully gravitated to, but that's neither here nor there.) Here, though, undisguised by experience or editing, is the core of Russell's talent on display. And while I may yet wind up reading it a sixth time, I can't say it's gotten better with age.