The City of the Dead
|ISBN||0 563 53839 2|
|Synopsis: In New Orleans, strange magics are afoot. An artefact dealer has been murdered, a charm carved from human bone is missing and Nothing is pursuing the Doctor.|
A Review by Steve Traylen 10/10/01
I just wanted to say (in a non-spoilered way), that this is utterly, utterly brilliant!
It's very much the Doctor's book and Fitz and Anji don't really do much. There's some important character development for Anji though.
The fan boys will hate it as it's basically a book about magic, and is also quite adult in tone; easily as much (and probably more) than the Virgin NA's. It's also a very complicated book, and I don't pretend to understand all the nuances.
Read it it's fab! (10/10)
If Clive Barker did Doctor Who... by Steve Crow 16/10/01
City of the Dead is . . . ? What? Yes, I say it's a Clive Barker novel, and that isn't entirely true. But if Clive Barker were trying to "write down" to Doctor Who, you'd have a novel like this one. I don't mean "write down" in a poor-quality sense, but more as if our hypothetical Mr. Barker were trying to rein in his more over-the-top sex & gore tendencies for the relatively milder Doctor Who setting.
But what's going on? The Doctor arrives in New Orleans with the feeling he's been haunted by something. There are magicians, and a naked blind woman, and a red neck thief, and a world-weary detective, and a nude model, and a lethargic artist, and naked women with candles attached to their *ahem* chests, and some pseudo-magic, and the Doctor asked to pose naked for the aforementioned artist, and . . . well, there's a lot of stuff going on. And despite all the naked people (including the Doctor himself in several scenes), like I said it's basically toned-down Clive Barker so it's not that radical. Compared to, say, Nyssa's brief stab at nude swimming in Asylum (which one reviewer commented upon in his review of that novel), it's pretty substantive.
Anji and Fitz are present (no, neither one is naked! Although they do get to watch the Doctor taking a bath naked) but they don't do much but move around a bit and investigate stuff. They are nicely characterized, particularly Fitz. Nothing radical, but there are a lot of nice little character touches (like his tuning out Anji's economic analyses). There's a story, it wraps up, more or less, and life goes on.
One thing I did enjoy about this novel is that you really get the impression this is a post Earth Arc stories. Some of the more recent stories (such as Year of the Intelligent Tigers), you read and there's very little to discern it from a pre-Earth Arc story. Author Lloyd Rose makes good use of the amnesiac Doctor who knows so little about his past. The main bad guy gets access to his memories and is awfully shocked, the Doctor still resists learning about his pre-amnesia past, and even the 7th Doctor makes a cameo appearance as a memory. There are a few lapses: occasionally the Doctor seems way too comfortable tossing off comments about aliens and strange things that he's never seen in all of his "experience" . . . which should be relatively short, all things considered, and most of it limited to Earth. The fact that much of the story is told from the Doctor's viewpoint and thoughts doesn't help this.
The Doctor here isn't the Eater of Wasps Doctor that engages in violence and whose motives are questionable. This is simply an amnesiac Doctor rather befuddled at everything happening to him and around him. And there's a lot to be befuddled about! Also like Barker, you really need to reread this novel several times, and I still get the impression there are lot of things that I am supposed to make assumptions on (like who murdered Chic) rather then things the author actually bothers to state right out.
Unfortunately, rereading the novel also makes you notice a few minor problems. Author Lloyd Rose has a good grasp on the preceding continuity, but seems to have forgotten Anji's dead boyfriend, who's only been dead seven novels. I don't expect her to still be writing him e-mails and all, but her jump into a romance with one of the main characters seems a little odd. She also can't seem to decide what color the Doctor's coat is: dovetail gray (pg. 10) or green (pg. 275). Trivial, sure, but it gives the impression that one more revision of the book might have been in order before printing it.
The Doctor also seems to get chained up and hurt a lot in City of the Dead: it's almost like an Orman novel! He also displays a somewhat accelerated Wolverine-like wound-healing ability, going so far as to deliberately make his broken leg worse to as to escape the villain.
Speaking of which, I'm loath to give out too much about the plot, since there is a substantial mystery for the reader at the heart of it. There are lots of supporting characters to confuse the matter, so I don't think I'm giving too much away here. The true identity of the villain is fairly well concealed, although again you may find yourself going back and rereading to pick up the clues. And it seems to me that some of those "clues" seem to contradict the ultimate revelation. Again, I would be giving away too much to discuss what some of those "clues" are, so read for yourself.
Overall, I'd recommend The City of the Dead. It's very much a Doctor-oriented piece, but it has a definite supernatural element to it as well. It leaves a lot to the reader's imagination: you get the impression the author was trying to convey the feel of New Orleans more then the elements of the mystery. Still, it's an enjoyable work overall.
A Review by Finn Clark 18/10/01
This review will contain no spoilers and is safe even for servants and other homunculi to read.
I really loved this book. Parts One and Two were a joy, some of the most atmospheric Who-related fun I've had in prose for a loooong time.
To state the most obvious thing first, it's set in New Orleans. I mean it. It's really set in New Orleans, bedded down so firmly it's grown roots. You can taste the city, feel it crawling under your skin and wriggling down to take residence in your hippocampus. It's a potentially awesome setting (read some Anne Rice if you're in doubt) but you need talent to bring it to life as vividly as this. Garth Ennis doesn't even begin to pull it off in Preacher, f'rinstance. I can't imagine this novel set in any other city, or on any other planet. It's rich and textured, something to run through your fingers and inhale deeply. Did I mention that I liked the setting?
(As an aside, it's almost shocking to find a throwaway reference to something as prosaic as Longleat. From being immersed in this wonderful milieu, suddenly we're jolted back to the ordinary world of fanboys and Doctor Who exhibitions. I love our programme as much as anyone, but City of the Dead transcends the books' usual evocations of cardboard corridors and melodramatic guest actors. Its world breathes and lives.)
Anyroad, I was talking about Parts One and Two. It's a bit confusing, but that's okay. It's a mystery. The characters are colourful and we're happy to go along with the narrative in the hope of learning what's going on at the end.
However we don't. Much mystery is resolved and Part Three changes direction so drastically that I was perplexed for quite a while. I started thinking the book was dragging and wondering why things hadn't been wrapped up already. In fact I was being unfair; it's mostly ceased being a New Orleans mystery and become more of a magical headfuck. Once I'd realigned my mental bearings I was able to enjoy the final third as well, but I can imagine some readers expecting the book to stay a murder mystery and getting pissed off that the mystery plot apparently grinds to a halt around page 200. That's a shame, because this final section is also well done for what it is.
Mind you, having the mystery sort-of wrapped up does draw one's attention to the fact that it's all a bit confusing. Being confused when you're meant to be confused is good fun. It's more worrying still to be baffled when you've apparently been presented with all the explanations but you still haven't quite got everything straight in your head.
I've mentioned magic. This is a post-Virgin magical treatment, something I don't think we've seen before in Who. Hitherto magic has always been defined by The Daemons, largely as "not-science". The Virgin novels gave us a big magic-science dichotomy and all kinds of Old Gallifrey nonsense, but at the end of the day they never really defined it in any terms more sophisticated than Jon Pertwee back in 1971.
This is different. This gets down and dirty with magical theory, addressing the nuts and bolts of conjuration, bone charms, probability manipulation and the kind of sad wanker who takes it all so dreadfully seriously. This is the work of someone who really knows what they're talking about. It makes the novels' previous treatments of magic look as wide-eyed and simplistic as the astrophysics in The Twin Dilemma when compared with a graduate physics thesis (though I hasten to add that it's colourful and interesting too).
The characterisation is lively and lots of fun. I especially liked Anji's economic analyses being brought to the fore; it's always good to see a brain in a companion (especially given my earlier fears regarding how badly Anji's talents might be mishandled by non-economist authors).
Overall, I thought this was funky. It's a book to wallow in, not to be raced through in one sitting. I presume Lloyd Rose's next 8DA, Camera Obscura, won't have the massive advantage of a New Orleans setting, but I'm still looking forward to it.
A Review by Mike Morris 26/10/01
New boys (or girls - I'm somewhat unsure of Lloyd Rose's gender) can sometimes be atrocious, sometimes steady, and every now and then they can be astonishing. For me, Lloyd Rose's first novel made more of an impact than any debut since The Scarlett Empress. It's excellent. Excellentexcellentexcellent. Not flawless, said the mean-spirited reviewer, but damn good. Body horror, magic and elemental spirits, weird and wacky characters, and some bloody scary scenes. That's what the crowd likes, innit?
This is a realm that Doctor Who has never really visited before; pure, unadulterated magic. No technobabble justifications whatsoever. No science-versus-magic debate. This is a world of magic, magic made modern, magic spells cast by nasty petty thugs and pretentious rich kids and god knows what else. City of the Dead is violent, atmospheric, gruesome, thoughtful and new. It's one of relatively few Doctor Who novels that often made me shudder. Its one of relatively few Doctor Who novels that often really frightened me.
It's also difficult to review, because this isn't the sort of thing I read often. I'll try, though.
New Orleans finally gets a story to itself, after that nice Bob Holmes idea relocated itself to Seville. New Orleans deserved a story more than Seville did. The title gets the idea across rather well; in spite of the music and the food, New Orleans here feels like it's decaying, a city gripped and fascinated by death. And as for the characters... a jaded police detective is the only one who's any way familiar, and Rust's development is... interesting. Then we have an artist who's stark staring bonkers, his semi-brainwashed wife, a cripple who collects magical charms, a failed magician, a thoroughly nasty crook and his thoroughly downtrodden wife, and - acolytes. Lots of acolytes. Not many clothes, but lots of acolytes.
Oh and there's a Void. The Doctor's being chased by a Nothing that's hunting him down in his dreams. Got all that? Good.
Essentially we get hit with all the unexplained factors first, which slowly get tied up. Pleasingly, and unusually, they aren't all part of the same story; there's at least three plots intermingled, and the Doctor spends a lot of time not knowing what's going on, which is certainly refreshing. This book made me think of a few influences at different points - the film Angel Heart, some of the better X-Files stories (the weirder ones that aren't about alien-human hybrids), Twin Peaks, Manga cartoons... nice.
The Doctor is marvellously written here. Various angles I never thought of are considered - the Doctor wondering whether he can be killed is just wonderful, as are his dream-meetings with the Seventh Doctor. When it comes to puzzling out what's going on, he's not much sharper than anyone else (Fitz makes as many deductions as the Doctor does). Rather, it's the Doctor's compassion and willingness to throw himself into things that moves things along - the Doctor's selflessness being a key plot point on at least one occasions. He also shows that new streak he's got for self-preservation on a couple of occasions, although given what happens to him in this book it's hard to blame him. The Doctor has rarely been this badly treated, never mind what the Saudis did to him in Interference. This surpasses even Kate Orman standard. By the time some nice chap started rubbing pepper into a magic spell that had been carved across the Doctor's chest, I'd have forgiven him if he went a chainsaw rampage. That sort of thing just isn't welcoming.
All in all, a good Doctor, with his amnesia fabulously used, particularly towards the end. I found it hard to believe he'd waste so much time with Dupre (a thoroughly repulsive character) but that's the only real slip-up. Some of the passages with Swan are lovely, and there's a really great interlude towards the end.
As for Fitz and Anji, they're very much a sideshow. They spend a lot of time together in this book while the Doctor ploughs a lone furrow, and their relationship is nicely developed. Used primarily to fetch and carry for the Doctor, they're a surprisingly entertaining double act. Anji's given a mini-romance, which is nice enough but somewhat unnecessary. She's also rather too nervous about the whole thing for my liking, and it all fizzles out in a rather pointless way.
Then again, Anji's easily the best of the female characters. This is why I still think Lloyd Rose is male (s/he claims to be female in the biog, but s/he also claims to be named after a hormone and live in a treacle well. I'm unconvinced), because I refuse to believe a woman would write female characters this way. Swan is ludicrously submissive, as is Mrs Flood - there's a very macho feel to their portrayal. Even all-powerful elementals only seem to exist to keep their men happy. If silly arseholes like Dupre can attract huge bunches of submissive women, well, they must be putting something in the water in New Orleans.
And here, folks, is my major problem with City of the Dead. It often feels like it's been written by a fifteen year old schoolboy, and the dodgy female characters (every schoolboy's wet-dream) are only the tip of the iceberg. There are a few scenes which are presumably supposed to be 'adult', but they're either gore-lite or, well, what can only be called soft porn. Some of the passages were more Orgy of the Dead than City of the Dead. Lots of nakedness. Lots of tits being shaken in the background. Forget fanwank, this is plain old-fashioned wank I'm afraid. It's very disappointing that a novel this good should so often descend into adolescent crap. It's kind of amusing at first, but rapidly becomes very dull; oh, so it is like Orgy of the Dead, then.
Thankfully, there are more than enough compensations. The plotting is gorgeous, and there's a temporal twist that left my head spinning. The book also pulls off that great trick of boiling everything down to a simple human tragedy. There's a whodunnit element that is wonderfully orchestrated; I suspected pretty much every character, including the actual culprit... but I was still stunned when I found out who it was.
To summarise, City of the Dead is fresh, unashamedly pulpy, new, delightfully plotted, and has some simply fabulous scenes. It may be let down by some frustrated-teenager-type writing, but it is still the most original book for some time so I'm prepared to forgive that. At times terrifying and at times beautiful, it's a marvellous read, and probably the most enjoyable novel since the Doctor left Earth.
If you're the type that doesn't buy every EDA, then trust me; don't skip this one.
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 27/11/01
Doctor Who has always had a fascination with Death. Witness the number of stories that feature Death in the TV Story Title and you’ll see that. The books have carried on this tradition, witness such dark fare as Matrix, Grave Matter and Rags. The 8th Doctor has been a companion of death more than most, he even encountered his own death (Alien Bodies). Death is everywhere in Doctor Who, never moreso than this wonderful book by newcomer Lloyd Rose.
New Orleans is the City in question. Anyone who has seen the James Bond film Live and Let Die will know that if you want to write a story about Death, and the supernatural, then New Orleans is better than most. We’re talking here about the Dark Arts, the Occult. Against such a backdrop is this book set. Right from the start we are flung into Chics’ Death shop – a kind of Black Magic supermarket. Cemetery artefacts are all the rage in New Orleans, and the clientele can’t get enough of them. Then the Doctor finds the dealer, as dead as his stock in trade. And so the investigations begin. Enter who else – a homicide/death detective. The suspicions fall naturally on the collectors of such artefacts, and enter one of the greatest cast of characters ever seen in Doctor Who.
The great thing about these characters is their eccentricities and their insecurities. The author conjures up too a marvelous set of names for them – Rust, Thales, Delesormes, Dupre, Acree. Brilliant characterization throughout the book brings these notables to life. The houses and museums that they populate are almost alive as they are – never have places been so well described. Also brought to life splendidly is New Orleans itself. The author is clearly familiar with the city, and brings all the atmosphere and nuances of the place over to the reader. From the descriptions of various locale throughout New Orleans you build a vivid picture of a totally unique place – it makes me want to go and visit.
The 8th Doctor fits effortlessly into the novel. He features prominently which is a treat indeed. He is the one searching for clues, getting involved in the dark goings-on in the basements and the attics. He is the star of the book, as it clearly states on the front. Fitz and Anji are not that prominent (they have to make way for the Magicians), but when featured are an integral and interesting part of the story. They are becoming closer too – a scene near the end of the book about Fitz’s smoking habit – particularly emphasizing this.
This is also a book to be read slowly. That is not to say it is hard to read, it is just very descriptively written. You want to get involved in everything within the book, and not skip by. You do not want to miss a trick. City of the Dead is a book to be devoured like a sumptuous feast, slowly so you enjoy each bite.
A stunning first novel from Lloyd Rose – a name I shall be looking for in upcoming schedules with great interest. Certainly one of the best 8th Doctor books, exactly the reason why I buy Doctor Who books – to enter such a thrilling and magical world. I was totally caught up in it’s charms. Classic 10/10
A Review by Terrence Keenan 5/12/01
This is a tale about magic, not done this way before in previous books in the DW line. Sarah Tonyn, writing her first DW novel under her pseudonym Lloyd Rose, has decided to work in a realm of fantasy, set her story in New Orleans. It is also a dream story, as the events hinge around the Doctor having nightmares about being attacked by nothing, where events around the Doctor move at their own gliding pace.
In a bold move, there is no scientific reason why magic works, or why there are water spirits and bone charms, horrid nightmares and killer localized floods. By not wrapping the reasons in technobabble, Ms. Tonyn leaves it to the reader to decide whether this is a dream, or whether the magic is actually real.
Characterization is solid, and the rather loose plot actually works better here. There's a mystery to be solved, but in reality the mystery isn't all that important. Whodunit readers will probably be disappointed by this.
The stand out characters are Fitz and Anji, who are shaping up to be one of the best companion pairings in the line. The Doctor is front and center, as it is his story. And the 'guest' characters are more than the usual one-dimensional caricatures found in DW fiction.
Unfortunately, there are some serious problems with this book:
4 out of 10
Five out of Five by Jamas Enright 30/1/02
The first word that comes to mind when describing The City of the Dead by newcomer Lloyd Rose is: lyrical. The story flows beautifully, and takes the reader on a ride of twists and turns with prose that dances around you.
The story is set in New Orleans, and the book is full of the flavour of that city, with one my favourite descriptions of the place being the Doctor's speech on page 88. It has everything from gumbo to magic to an old slave plantation. It is an atmosphere most skilfully evoked.
The plot takes many twists and turns, only one of which I managed to see coming just before it happened. Everything manages to come together at the end, but I didn't suspect that there were parts to even bring together until after events occurred. No-one is safe here, with some deaths coming in an entirely surprising and sometimes nonchalant, although still effective, manner. It's also the first book to show the Doctor's past to the Doctor, even though that past isn't quite ready to be uncovered yet. I'm not sure if this is just poetic license, or if the books are going to start bringing the Doctor's memory back.
The Doctor is well written here, coming off the page in vivid images. He enters situations without fully comprehending them, but that is a part of his charm. He also gets tortured in ways that would make Kate Orman happy.
Fitz and Anji are definitely the secondary plot characters, but no less well handled for it. They are somewhat flatter for their lesser stature, but still shine through in moments. Anji finally gets her own social life, which I'm not sure if it comes too soon (although it's hard to tell personal time in these books) after Dave, or it's something long overdue.
There is no main villain of the piece, except for the shadowy magician that doesn't come to the fore until the last section. Dupre wants to be the bad man, but is merely incompetent, which Lloyd Rose pulls off with impressive showiness. I would have liked to see more of Thales and his Museum Of Magic. As for Rust, he is the most complex, as befits someone who has to play off all the other characters in the book whilst maintaining his own sense of self. There are a slew of other characters that also come across extremely well.
One of the most innovative elements in this book is the use of magic. There's no sign of psychic explanations, no technology behind the curtains. This is magic in all its hand-waving, spell-casting, item-using glory although it is subtly played. And it's precisely because there is no reason for it to work given (except for a few phrases in the beginning of the book about energy) that it works so well. Most novels get hung up on explaining everything (e.g. The Sorcerer's Apprentice) or flaunting the lack of reason (e.g. The Scarlet Empress) that this makes for a refreshing change. I was beginning to despair that Doctor Who could approach that style of fantasy properly any more, but The City of the Dead does it fine.
Definitely get The City of the Dead, and keep out an eye for more works by this author. Good things are a'comin'.
A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 24/2/02
I'm always happy when a new writer enters the Doctor Who range. New voices tend to bring a breath of fresh air and a new perspective to the characters and stories that we know so well. Lloyd Rose's debut is particularly impressive, invoking memories of several other fantastic first-time novelists who went on to consistently be the stars of the line. It's not a flawless work, as it suffers from a few minor problems that can easily put down to first-time jitters. But it's enthusiastic enough and so professionally written than one can forgive it its slight imperfections and enjoy it for the wonderful piece of writing that it is.
Although, on the cover, the words "Doctor Who" dwarf the title of the book, it is the city in question that nearly swamps out the Doctor. The New Orleans of this story is vividly portrayed and nicely detailed without feeling belabored. Rose provides us with just enough to inspire the imagination, yet one never feels as though she is merely showing off her knowledge of the city. It's a difficult and narrow line to walk, but in City Of The Dead it looks positively easy. This is not a case of an author setting a story in whatever city she happened to randomly hit on a dartboard; New Orleans is integral to this story. The city of aboveground tombs, magic shops and cult followers adds flavor and atmosphere while grounding the story firmly in the "real" world. Despite the unworldly events of the later part of the book, the story never loses sight of its essential realistic quality. Given the fairly liberal use of magic throughout, this is quite an accomplishment.
At times this feels like a thriller, with a lurking and desperate murderer who practices magic and hides in the shadows. Because of this, a handful of characters don't get as much development as they could have done. Rose shows that given time, she can create some memorable and excellent characters, but several of them just aren't given all that much space. This is understandable, since the whodunit aspect of the story relies on there being a large enough group of suspects. Despite the inherent problems with writing for such a great number of characters in a relatively small amount of space, this isn't a particular problem here. One just wishes that all of the characters had been given as much to work with.
Although there are a few minor problems with the resolution to the mystery, the effect is quite masterful for the lead up to the unmasking. The unveiling of the magician mastermind came as a genuine shock, and probably should have been foreshadowed a little better up to that point. Even so, the investigation is quite intriguing. If you're not careful, you'll find yourself staying up far later at night reading just to see what happens next.
The prose in this book simply sparkles. There are several memorable passages that will be staying with you long after the book has been placed back on the shelf. Several dream sequences suck the reader in, without falling into over-the-top melodrama as happens all too often when dealing with unreal or hallucinogenic writing. A lot of mention has been made about the strong use of magic with only one or two explanations in the narrative of how it relates to scientific rationality. Almost everything that has been said on the matter is correct, yet the magical forces don't feel at all out of place for a Doctor Who novel. The use of magic is added so seamlessly that by the end of the book one suddenly has the impression that surely there must have been several other such stories in the past. It's executed so effortlessly, that one almost doesn't feel the need to give it undue notice. It isn't a book "about" magic any more than The Turing Test was a book "about" science. Magic and science are merely the tools used to tell the story. They add a certain flavor and texture to the story, but there is certainly quite a lot more going on here than just a ghost story with a few magicians in it.
City Of The Dead isn't a perfect novel, of course. There are a few sections (mostly in the first half) where characters move around to satisfy the plot at the expensive of any motivations they may have had themselves. The ending, in particular, is slightly vague and confusing. Yet it is still written strongly enough that many of these problems aren't quite as serious as they would ordinarily be. One gets quite caught up in the action, so much so that any imperfections rarely impeded my enjoyment of the book itself.
Despite the relatively minor flaws that I mentioned, City Of The Dead is quite a good book. It stands as one of the better Eighth Doctor Adventures and takes its place among the best Doctor Who novels written by a first-timer. I find myself greatly looking forward to Lloyd Rose's next, more experienced work.
The Living City by Robert Smith? 25/3/02
I was sitting on a plane in Honolulu, about to take off for a trans-Pacific flight. We were about to launch into the air, when the captain announced that there was a minor problem. We returned to the terminal, but we didn't disembark, as we were assured that it would be fixed in about 15 minutes. Four hours passed. All around me, passengers were going stir-crazy, wondering when we'd take off, why they weren't letting us out of the plane and how unpleasant it was going to be to add four hours to our already ridiculously long flying time. Not me -- despite the cramped and claustrophobic conditions, I was quite content. Because I was happily reading The City of the Dead.
This is a gorgeous book. The opening especially is fantastic. Ironically for the titular city, New Orleans lives and breathes through the pages of this book. It's almost a character in itself. However, it's the writing that really brings this to life. I must confess I don't usually notice the quality of writing unless it's very good or very bad. To say I noticed the writing here is a huge compliment. It's not just the descriptions, fantastic as they are; the dialogue is fantastic too, in a way that we so rarely get.
The opening part of the plot is also great. We've seen plenty of murder mysteries before in Doctor Who, but this one is seeped in atmosphere that most Who novels simply can't get anywhere near. And the identity of the magician had me swearing out loud, much to the consternation of my fellow passengers.
Thales is a great character, which makes his absence for so long all the more disappointing. I thought I had this pegged and it was leading to a great revelation, but instead it led somewhere completely different that I'm still not sure I understand. Rust too is great, in every aspect we see him in. I can see why there's a chapter called "Rust Never Sleeps" here -- although why there's the same chapter title in Byzantium! I have no idea (unless it's some British phrase I'm unfamiliar with). The two books were published only a month apart, leading me to wonder if there was some bizarre copy editing mistake across the two books.
The three parts do feel a bit disconnected, but I don't mind so much. Lloyd Rose could include a chapter listing the digits of pi she had memorised and I'd still be in love with it. Parts two and three can't compete with the opening for sheer style, but they're still quite good. It's true that the Doctor does spend an inordinately long time in yet-another-CSO-void, but by the time he gets there the book has established its credentials well enough that I'm prepared to accept it.
Part of the reason is the focus on the Doctor himself. One of the stated reasons for the Earth arc was to work on the Doctor's character, which the Earth arc itself accomplished quite well, but the subsequent books have let him slide a bit. That's all restored here, with a very Doctor-centric book. We get some really interesting insights towards the end that could have been lame in the hands of a lesser author, but work wonderfully here.
Fitz and Anji take a bit of a back seat, but that's okay. Fitz still gets a fabulous moment when he attacks the coffin with the log in it that's almost worth the price of admission alone. Anji does get some economics stuff to do, which is passable enough, but not terribly interesting.
All that said, if my life depended on explaining the ending, I'd be a dead man.
At first it looks like there's something really interesting going on. Everyone's trying to work out who the child is, when suddenly Fitz and Anji have the shocking insight that maybe the child didn't survive at all and it was the father instead and that would make Rust a prime candidate, because he's too old to be the child.
Okay, I guess I wasn't paying attention to all those passages that told me Rust was too old to be the child, but that's all right. This is brilliant, it makes a lot of sense and it's just the sort of rewarding revelation that ends one of the book's central mysteries perfectly.
Except that this isn't it at all, although we're not told why. No, Rust is the child after all, despite apparently being too old. The book doesn't explain the discrepancy here, leading me to wonder just why Fitz and Anji have their revelation at all, if it doesn't go anywhere. Not to mention just how Rust can be the child after all if he is too old. If you're going to point these things out for all to see, then it would be nice for the hapless reader if you explained just how it all fits together! That's not even getting into the Thales-Rust-Mrs Flood stuff at the end, which was so confusing that I just shook my head in bewilderment when I read it. And reread it. And reread it again, but I still wasn't sure what had happened.
I have honestly never been so confused by the ending of a novel before, and I've read the entire works of Paul Leonard. I was waiting for the Doctor to explain everything in the epilogue, but instead we get three and a half pages of something completely tangential. The epilogue just seems bizarre, but I suppose in its own way that's not out of place by this point.
However, this isn't a book that stands or falls on its plot, it's a book that lives and breathes through its writing. It's true that I'd like to follow the logic of the situation, but I suppose it's not such a tragedy that in a book about magic the logic becomes so convoluted that it's indistinguishable from nonsense (with thanks to Arthur C. Clarke for that one).
The City of the Dead is a feast of a novel. It sinks at the end, but that's basically irrelevant, because it's still head and shoulders better than the majority of Doctor Who books. I'm prepared to forgive just about anything, so well was I hooked into the atmosphere the book sets up. Highly recommended.
One word: Unbeatable by Joe Ford 4/12/03
With just two novels under her belt Lloyd Rose has (at least in my eyes) become one of the most successful writer to ever contribute to the range. Her work is extraordinary, powerful and genuinely unputdownable. She is a woman Justin Richards should be begging to write another piece before the EDA's run out of time.
It is a book like this that saddens me that Doctor Who will be returning to our screens. You see, TV Doctor Who could never be this good. It never was this good and it never will be this good. The City of the Dead is a story that could only be told in a novel, so seeped in mystery and atmosphere that a production would undoubtedly only capture one tenth of its power. This is the 8th Doctor range at the height of its powers, carving a tragic, romantic, heroic figure out of the Doctor and unleashing him into a world of sex, violence and magic. No, the series would never dare go this far. In some ways I'm glad, to have the series sacrificing the show's innocence and adventuring would divide fandom catastrophically, this sort bravery belongs to the books and its smaller, more forgiving audience of fans. Not that I'm saying every Doctor Who book should contain scenes of erect magicians casting spells and such like, that would pervert the range but dips into a more adult, more sinister world are shocking and welcome. No wonder this book was so well received, after three years of Steve Cole's bland adventuring it must have been like having a bucket of water thrown over your head.
I read this book at work, late one night when I had to hang around for maintenance to be done. Just me, in a shadowy corner with The City of the Dead. The night just flew by, so entranced was I by every word on every page. This book is like a painting, filled with detail, with glorious sights and senses and emotions, Lloyd Rose adding more and more detail to her masterpiece. Once I had finished I was gorged, so much wonder, so many thrills, too many memorable moments to account for. You might say "it's just a book!" and to that I say "yes, of the hundreds I've read it might well be the best one" and for someone who gets involved with books as much as me that is an astonishing statement.
It is a book like The City of the Dead that reminds you why reading is essential.
The book is obsessed with the Doctor. He is in practically every scene and given the most thorough examination since he lost his memory. How on earth can people despise his memory loss when a character as bloody brilliant as this is the result? The book lives and breathes with the Doctor, its very purpose is for us to get inside his head and see what's going on. And it's not pretty. Nightmares plague his life, forcing him to steer towards the macabre setting of New Orleans. He is being hunted down by Nothing, one of the scariest monsters the books have unleashed. He is pushing his closest friends away (the wonderful Anji and Fitz) to 'protect' them from the horrors he is facing. People keep telling him they are inside his head, that they know what he has done, they know why he his memories are being blocked and he is desperate to know what. We see a man who is trapped by a past he has forgotten, and stumbling blindly through the present. Forget the 3rd Doctor from Inferno, never before has he come across as so lost. When close to finding some answers he slumps forward, tears on his face and asks "What was it? What did I do?" Essential, gripping reading.
One thing I noticed and revelled in was the feeling of melancholy the book emotes. The Doctor, Fitz and Anji are three very different people forced together by extraordinary circumstances. In The City of the Dead you see each of them as naked as possible, Anji tries to attach herself to the Detective Rust after just two dates, fallout from her reaction to her dead lover Dave. Fitz is obsessed with helping the Doctor who (even he has to admit) is getting remote and dangerously mysterious. You feel his hollowness inside at being kept away from the Doctor's plans, his determination to feel useful. And the Doctor, hardly interacting with either of them desperately trying to find himself. Three strikingly different personalities trying to find their way in this new life they share, their combined lack of direction forcing them together. It is heart-warming and saddening at the same time, just one facet of a book that grabs your emotions and toys with them wickedly.
The other characterisations are like flowers opening at sunrise. The first few chapters introduce the principal players, Rust, Thales, Acree, Dupre... all instantly memorable. But as the book progresses they begin to flower, grow brighter, unfold in the most unexpected of ways before finally, wilting away, their desires and greed proving their downfall, petals falling away to reveal the ugly heart inside. A melodramatic metaphor there but this is a book that inspires creativity, that makes you want to be as good as Rose despite the inevitable unlikeness of that.
Every book has its snake and in this case it's Dupre, the camp, crass theatrical loser who wants desperately to be part of something bigger. What a fool, from his first (brilliant) appearance you can see this guy will be the instigator of his own downfall and walk with him to wait, expectantly, until it happens. I loved reading about this guy especially the Doctor's hysterical reactions to his pathetic attempts to summon monsters ("Oh no, you're not going to kill me wearing something that stupid looking are you?"). The scene where the Doctor thinks just how embarrassing it would be to be killed by someone like Dupre after all the truly powerful horrors he has faced says everything you need to know about Dupre.
The catalyst for the story and the character who pulls all the threads together is Rust, the hardened detective who is brilliantly sidelined to the periphery of the main plot so you don't expect his involvement. His 'romance' with Anji is sweet, two short scenes that says much about both of their desire for the comfort of love. The plot is expertly woven around Rust, a schizophrenic character who morphs from the guy you can trust to your worst nightmare. Only a bloody good author could pull that off without it seeming corny.
Thales was another guy who instantly grabs the attention, obviously more involved than he lets on and unfortunately absent for too long, this wheezing, wise old man has few but extremely memorable scenes with the Doctor. It such much about the Doctor's character that Thales pushing everyone else away but him.
The biggest selling point and the aspect most pointed out in reviews (read every single one above) is the New Orleans setting. As far as I'm aware Lloyd Rose is using all genuine locations in her book and without even leaving my home town I have visited it myself. Such was the detail and atmosphere created. When the Doctor walks around the Nightmare of Horror you are with him every step of the way, the ghoulish, gory sights sending chills down the spine. The exteriors are brilliantly brought to life too, the decaying, characterful architecture explored thoroughly by the Doctor, Fitz and Anji. The book is brilliantly broody, seeped in death and the setting is responsible for that. A scene with Anji stumbling through the countryside into a graveyard, shining a torch on Fitz digging up a grave shows Rose at her peak, vivid nightmares reaching out from the dark, grotesque imagery and some very palpable fear.
And finally the writing style which as I may have already mentioned is exceptional. Prose is all important as far as I'm concerned, it is usually the first thing I notice in a book, it can be a poor book's saving grave or a decent read's drawback. Reading this book is like slipping into a pleasant dream, the words shoot off the page with unexpected ease despite their powerful messages. I read this in one evening, the book demanded I not stop until the very last page. Brilliantly structured passages abound and some scenes are mini-masterpieces of their own (the Doctor chatting to the vicar, Dupre convinced of his last brutal act, the incredible nerve of the sex ritual with the Doctor intervening in a most powerful fashion), Rose writes with simple words but chooses those words so perfectly the book tears the emotions out of you. You have to experience the book, not read it.
Yes, there's sex, yes there's swearing and by God there's violence, the three things I point at the New Adventures and criticise. But this felt different, not just nastiness for the sake of it, no mass killings or endless bonking, a slow steady menace is built up around these three things, an atmosphere of danger and despair. Lloyd Rose uses adult themes to enrich the story not to pollute it. That's the difference.
This book comes smack bang in the middle of what I consider to be the strongest run of books Doctor Who has ever known. In the heart of all this creativity, intelligence and fun lies The City of the Dead, the impossibly brilliant debut novel from Lloyd Rose.
Did I say this book was overrated? What a fool I am.
"As in 'Do Pray'. Not that it will do you any good." by Hugh Sturgess 11/10/11
That was... odd. It's not because of the book's pseudo-sophistication as regards to magic, or its literal depiction of magic "working", but it's genuinely one of the oddest Doctor Who stories I've ever seen/read/heard. It seems to have little interest in anything approaching a plot, and it has less interest in its (three!) villains than a Lawrence Miles novel. Lloyd Rose is obviously a talented writer (Camera Obscura is fantastic), and we don't have enough women writing for the series (poor Helen Raynor, being stuck with The Sontaran Stratagem), but I couldn't help but feel non-plussed after I'd put this book down, with a side order of "huh?". It's not confusing (there's no plot to confuse you), and it's not bad per se, but I still can't help but view it as a strange blind alley: maybe fun once, but you wouldn't want to live there.
First, it has the oddest plot structure that I've ever seen. It's not bad plotting, as such, but rather utterly bizarre. The Doctor basically wanders around New Orleans, letting nasty and disturbing things happen to him courtesy of the million-and-one members of the guest cast, all of whom are losers whose only significant function is to engage in gratuitous weirdness who hate/desire the Doctor, depending on their relative goodness/evilness. The first third of the book vaguely concerns searching for a thief and a murderer, but the culprit is killed around the 100-page mark and the case solves itself; then the Doctor becomes the target of a deluded wannabe magician, but he's killed. Then on (about) page 197 the "main" antagonist reveals himself to a confused "huh?" from this reader and tries to re-enact parts of the first two plots, but he's killed. The end.
They have some shared characters, a shared setting (New Orleans) and a shared focus on magic and voodoo, but other than that nothing. No shared themes, three separate villains (who don't actually interact) and unrelated resolutions. This book couldn't help but leave me dissatisfied, because it doesn't really have a central arc. In the acknowledgements, Lloyd Rose thanks Justin Richards for turning the book into a novel "and not a string of incidents". Sorry, but it still is a string of incidents. Remarkably, that doesn't scupper the book. It's appropriate that the title of the book describes the setting, since the true "story" is an accident-prone tour of the New Orleans' occult underworld.
With the plot so lightweight as to be non-existent, the obstacles for the Doctor would have to be correspondingly low-key, as a strong, powerful villain would tear the book apart within fifty pages with the sheer strength of his potential. The first two villains take the form of a thieving hillbilly and a demented ghost-tour guide, which I think we can agree sees the bar, in stakes-terms, at unimaginably low levels. The last villain is a bit more impressive, but he's revealed in a cheap and totally unforeseeable twist that fails to surprise due to the previous lack of plot. Imagine what the Doctor of The Burning or Eater of Wasps (never mind the seventh Doctor) would have done to THESE losers. The book would be over in the time necessary for a Short Trips adventure.
Our guide on this tour, always ready to explain the local history and point at the colourful eccentrics trying to kill him, is the Doctor. Like the plot and the antagonists, this is a really odd portrayal for any incarnation. In fact, I'm not sure I like it. Lloyd Rose has done away with the dangerous post-Ancestor-Cell Doctor whose motives and methods are questionable, and has focussed on what she considers to be the eighth Doctor's most interesting attributes: he's hot and English. The book gets a sticky thrill out of his "angelic" features, his blemish-free alabaster skin, his gentlemanliness, and so on. As Swan baldly states, he's perfect. He's Mr. Darcy written by someone with no appreciation for the real Mr. Darcy's darkness and general arseholishness. Things get slightly disturbing when Teddy Acree (Random Character #12 out of a hundred) asks the Doctor to pose naked with his wife, and this is mere pages before he assists a girl out of her spiky bondage-gear in a bathroom. By the time the Doctor has had runes carved into his chest and then taken a bath while Fitz and Anji look on, you begin to get the feeling that it's wish-fulfillment. If the tenth Doctor is a lonely angel, then the eighth Doctor here is a lonely angel written by Stephenie Meyer.
He's also incredibly passive. Once he becomes embroiled in the murder-mystery part of the novel, he decides to assist the police by standing around vacuously and helping very little. He even asks Lieutenant Rust whether he is allowed to stick around on the case; what Doctor can you imagine doing that? This book came out around the time of Eater of Wasps, in which the Doctor is short-tempered, untrustworthy, violent and when a pathologist says that he doesn't need an assistant, he replies "don't worry, I do!". Rose's Doctor might just summon up the self-regard to ask politely whether he could just stand in the background and watch. He pretty much does nothing of importance in this book, preferring to have people kick, stab, mutilate and generally abuse him and let the villains defeat themselves. Camera Obscura, a far more accomplished book, makes the Doctor a more pro-active figure, one who has realised that he isn't Sam Spade and can and will do things a bit above the level of a divorce-case PI.
You can tell Lloyd Rose is a big fan of crime fiction: Camera Obscura was a Sherlock Holmes story with "Holmes" find-and-replaced with "Doctor" (he quotes Holmes again and again as though Rose was disappointed that he WASN'T the Great Detective), and The City of the Dead is an American-style crime story, with interweaving strands, tangled webs, plots within plots, etc. But he remains too passive and colourless to be a two-fisted American detective. Indeed, Lloyd seems to be more comfortable writing Rust as the hard-nosed investigator.
And one particular part of his depiction here that I truly disliked was that he was way too human. He demonstrates an accelerated healing ability that borders on Wolverine-like, which lets the novel abuse him badly and leave him in a position to continue wandering around aimlessly as usual. But in terms of character, he could be a human and not much would change. He is "relieved" that Dupre isn't naked under his silk dressing gown, and later asks for a bit of privacy while he's taking a bath. He refuses to pose nude for Acree, seemingly out of modesty. Huh? Sorry, this is the Doctor, the immortal traveller in time and space, we're talking about here? The man who, in Mad Dogs and Englishmen, will be totally blithe about being naked in the presence of Fitz and Anji? The man who barely registers that Swan is attractive? Since when did he become a prude? This Doctor has lived for a century among humans and has seen unspeakable things. I'm sure he wouldn't be hung up on being naked around humans.
Later on, he describes Delesormes Jr.'s adoptive parents as "subhuman" because they were abusive. Oh, fuck off. It's undeniable that there are a lot of unpleasant people out in the world, that some are uncaring and a few are genuinely cruel, but that's precisely the point: they're people. The Doctor has lived through a century on Earth. Two of the books in the series were set during the world wars. He saw Dresden shattered from the air, by the "good guys". His ally in The Turing Test, Graham Greene, is an imperialist and a bigot. He's seen the dark side of humanity, up close, again and again. In short, cut the political moralistic bullshit, Doctor. People are capable of horrible acts, but to say that bad things are done by monsters sidesteps the issue. We say that murderers and paedophiles are "subhuman" because we're human and we want to feel better about ourselves. The Doctor isn't human. He has no reason to prettify humanity's self-image.
Sorry about that. Rant over.
There were lots of things I did like about the Doctor, though. I liked his anguished reaction when he effectively becomes a voodoo doll and is forced to horribly murder an innocent man. Similarly, the sequences set in the swamp boggle dream-world were also nice.
Now, as for the other regulars: zilch. Rose is on the record as not understanding the point of companions and she says that she can never think of something for them to do. The result here is a big focus on the Doctor, but it leaves Fitz and Anji wandering around in the background being sent off on fool's errands and wondering where the Doctor is. Nothing they do progresses the plot (or non-plot) in any meaningful way. They're never in peril, however slight. They never interact with the characters, beyond sabotaging Dupre's ghost tour and a totally bizarre romance for Anji that makes precisely no sense, since it seems that Rust saw her briefly in a cafe and liked what he saw so much that he decided to find out who she was, where she lived and ask her out. Since Rust is later revealed to be keeping a big secret, these scenes don't even act as characterisation for either he or Anji. The Doctor spends the entire book trying to keep them out of danger. Granted, that's what he always tries to do, but here he's completely successful in this regard and they don't even go out looking for him when he disappears for several days.
They feel superfluous, but there's an easy way to rectify this: replace some of the random, one-scene characters with them. So many "extras" are introduced for a single scene, engage in pseudo-meaningful dialogue with the Doctor and then disappear. At one point, the Doctor walks into a church to discuss the nature of evil with an understandably confused priest. I didn't like that bit at all. It reminded me of that bit in The Death of Art (or Damaged Goods, I forget) when the Doctor goes to a confessional booth to angst about whatever it is he's going to do. Keep the Doctor away from religion, at all costs. Fitz and Anji could have worked a bit more into the book by giving them some of the role of the Doctor's sounding-board. That is, really, what the companions are for.
Rose has put her energies into two things: the Doctor and New Orleans. I've already said my piece about the former, but the latter is delightful. It's a really evocative look at the city, with its decaying stucco'd buildings, abandoned plantations in the bayou, its mausoleums, its culture of voodoo and revelry. Just the city itself is written with a delightful energy that almost makes up for the absence of a plot. The city is beautifully evoked and it made me disappointed that the books still chose to focus so strongly on England-based Earthbound stories. Just the setting made the book feel fresh.
The book's depiction of magic is also quite unusual. Ever since The Daemons, it's been assumed that magic is wrong and crap, and you'd have to be stupid to believe in it. The Virgin novels imposed a magic-science dichotomy that I think works really well: the Doctor and the Time Lords are rationalists, so of course they were the ones responsible for setting up the universe so that magic didn't "work". The Scarlet Empress had charms, sorcerers and magic, but Doctor Who had previously had pretend-magic and had revealed it to just be sufficiently advanced science. This book takes magic - spells, rituals, charms, conjurations, access to "alternative forms of energy" - as a deadly serious matter and dumps it right into our world, in our universe.
Real people, not alien warlords or nanomachines, perform the magic in this story. This might be anathema to more "traditional" rationalist Doctor Who fans, but I didn't have much of a problem with it. Even before The Adventuress of Henrietta Street came out and said it openly, there had been the idea that - with the Time Lords gone - the "laws" that forbade magic had been suspended. In Camera Obscura, time technology is seen to be proliferating without Gallifrey as a "galactic ticket-inspector" (presumably the Daleks take this interregnum between Gallifreys to turn themselves into Absolute Threat To All Time and Space seen in the New Series). They're different means to the same end: the Time Lords' science uses tools to alter reality, magic uses symbols. Even the New Series got on board with the Carrionites, who existed before the Time Lord New Order and used words to change reality.
This increase in magic and symbol-driven time-travel could have become the major theme of the post-Gallifrey books, which might have kept a lot of people a bit more happy in the 2003 period. Imagine an arc about the new forces that have risen to replace Gallifrey, employing the new magicks and mirror-and-static-driven time-techniques to impose their will on time and space; more like voodoo witch-doctors than Time Lords. No parallel universe stuff (except The Last Resort, as I love that book), but rather the universe becoming like New Orleans here: decaying, sordid, voodoo-y, Faction Paradox's wet-dream. Can the Doctor, the man whom time forgot, hold back the ruthless new breed? I think it sounds fantastic. But no, it was a run of books that were populated by litters of universes in lieu of a cast. Shame.
Overall, I like this book. It sounded like I didn't, but it's still charming, richly textured and filled with intriguing new concepts regarding magic and the Doctor. It may not have much in the way of a plot, but it's better to have no plot and be this book than have a solid plot and be Escape Velocity. If it had a plot as strong as its setting or its sense of the macabre, this would have been a masterpiece. Instead, it looks like an experiment in need of refining. Camera Obscura is better, since it has a) a plot, b) a better depiction of the Doctor and c) an antagonist worthy of the Doctor. Seriously, Sabbath would only waste as much time as it took to shoot the losers this book has for villains dead. It's well worth a read, particularly if you like your Doctor Who inventive, fresh and strange.
Mike Morris says in his review that parts of this book were more like The Orgy of the Dead. I really wish that was the title.