Wednesday, October 23, 2013

2nd Doctor Book Review - Justin Richards's Dreams of Empire

Dreams of Empire by Justin Richards
Published by: BBC Books
Publication Date: August 3rd, 1999
Format: Paperback, 320 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

The Haddron Republic has just ended a mighty civil war. One of their leaders, Kesar, took it upon himself to make the Republic an Empire. His Empire. Though his dreams were destroyed by his childhood friend Trayx. They fought a mighty war and in the end Trayx was victorious. Kesar was sentenced to imprisoned exile among the stars. Kesar and his remaining loyal followers would live on Santespri with a garrison of Trayx's soliders. Though his exile isn't what truly brought Kesar low, it's the attack on him after his sentencing, he was disfigured so badly he now wears a metal mask while spending all his time playing chess with his second in command, Cruger. The hope is that chess will make the two of them see why their coupe failed as well as while away the hours.

The TARDIS materializes in a lower section of the castle on Santespri just as Trayx has come to visit Kesar and a murder has happened. At first considered persons of interest, The Doctor, Jamie and Victoria, soon are viewed as allies when The Doctor points out, not only can they not be the murderers, but that there's a ship, an unscheduled ship, heading straight for Santespri, and that they should marshal their resources and get ready for attack. But is the ship coming to rescue Kesar to lead him to the throne he once desired, or is it coming to kill him and make of him the martyr Trayx hoped Kesar would never be. A symbol to rally around and restart the civil war. Or is there more going on then any of them know?

Dreams of Empire is one of those books that struggles to get started. I just wasn't able to connect to this outer space Roman Empire redux with delusions of Napoleon's exile in Elba but peopled with robotic legionnaires. The empire didn't seem logical or even plausible, plus those Cylon wannabes (they are far more advanced then Cybermen, so I'm going with Cylon) being "Legion" well... the hive mind was a little too similar to the previous book about The Doctor I just read, seriously, whomever picked these books didn't really care about diversity of storytelling now did they? Doctor Who usually excels at combining the old with the new, but here it felt like a puzzle that didn't want to fit together right, like there was a piece missing. In his introduction, Justin Richards talks about ancient Rome in a very muddled way with a lot of what ifs. The fact that he seems muddled even in this story's inception I think makes it clear that he would have troubles pulling off this imagined empire. Plus, while I do have a basic grasp of Roman history, Richards seems to almost expect you to know the play by play of the senate and the consuls in order for you to make any sense of the politics. Also, are these people really wearing tunics but have advanced weaponry and bombs? Yeah... not feeling it.

Thankfully everything in the book changes once we get to Kesar's (Serisouly, Kesar? Is he the Quasar Caesar?) exile on Santespri (yep, another asteroid like the last book, sigh). Because then the book isn't about Empires and political backstabbing, then it's about people, people who you feel a real connection to, and lots and lots of chess games. But more importantly it's about The Doctor, and Jamie (woo hoo) and Victoria. The 1st Doctor book I read annoyed me because it could easily have been a book without The Doctor. He could have been omitted entirely and the book would have still worked. He was a background character used to tie up loose ends. Seriously, if you write a Doctor Who book it should have The Doctor front and center all the time. Dreams of Empire not only had The Doctor front and center but perfectly capture both who The Doctor is, but also really captured Patrick Troughton's Doctor perfectly. You could see him so easily in your mind's eye that at times it was a little eerie. Yet I think the true genius of this book relates to something I believe Neil Gaiman said. That while this is a second Doctor story, you could just as easily see Tom Baker or Matt Smith delivering these lines. Justin Richards has caught a hold of the elusive heart of The Doctor that I have felt missing in some of this past season of the show and made this book 100% Doctor.

In fact, The Doctor is able to carry the rest of the book despite its flaws. The book occasionally gets bogged down with technology and almost heist like antics with the security cameras working or being looped. The bad guy is laughably obvious, even how he's doing it is so transparent that you're just waiting for The Doctor to spring his trap. And the "twist" well, how should I put this... ah, I don't want to be rude seeing as I actually liked the book, but, well... it wasn't a twist, just something blindingly obvious. Like so obvious there was an arrow above it in neon going, here's the obvious. In the end, there's just too many historical and technological things vying against each other to make it a truly cohesive story, but somehow, it works. If you can make it a couple of chapters in you won't be disappointed, except perhaps in the fact that the title of the book is repeatedly said by the characters. Here's a good tip for authors, don't obviously use your book title in the book, it's a bit too meta and lame.


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