In brief: Fantastic, absolutely fantastic. The single best Doctor Who book to come out in a long time. Even if you've never had any inclination to read a Bernice NA in your life, read this one.
Yes, you read that right. Despite being published as a New Adventure, this is very much a Doctor Who book. Not just because it features characters as far stretching as the Time Lords, the Daleks, Rassilon and Cwej but it positions itself as essential reading due to featuring the opening stages of the war prophesised in Alien Bodies.
Don't be fooled by the author's note at the beginning. There are red herrings a-plenty in this book and that's just the first one. The earnest "Believe me" is a dead giveaway. I've seen books that have been a joy from the first word of the text. Dead Romance manages to go a step further by being a joy to behold even from the author's note! Oh, and it also positively encourages you to question authorial intent, right from the beginning. How many other authors even think about that?
This book is astonishingly well written. It's so well written that it almost hurts. I can usually forgive a certain lack of skill on the part of many of the authors from the BBC and Virgin, but this book dares me not to. It's the standard for which every book should be reaching. I'm terribly afraid that my innocence is going to be lost after this; my patience for shoddily written books is going to be stretched rather thin after I've seen what can actually be accomplished with enough skill and care.
The first person narrative is great and really well done. Christine Summerfield manages to shine through as one of the best developed characters in a very long time. She's so very, very real and that irony isn't lost on anyone. Her growing obsession with Bernice is quite interesting, both leading into the fascinating Summerfield family history and concluding in her search. Benny actually seems to benefit from not appearing, which is something I hadn't thought possible.
And then there's Cwej. Oh, Cwej! What happens to him throughout the book is so cleverly set up and so convincing that it's like witnessing an incredible accident in slow motion, with no real sense of where it all went wrong. Cwej's descent is an amazing take on an established character - even more so because it still leaves him sympathetic. By the end, you feel sorry for him more than anything, which is quite a feat on the author's part.
You can see precisely why he does everything he does - right down to the brainwashing and the reinterpretation of the Doctor. What's truly amazing about this is that even though the Doctor's adventures have been rewritten and redefined, they still shine through as ultimately right. We might be told that he's the Evil Renegade, but his actions fighting the Gods single-handedly and the way the Time Lords are set up to counterpoint this, leaves him ultimately in the right, whatever Chris's memories might say.
There are so many little touches that are just so neat. There's the sequence involving the cover, which works fine on its own level, but also manages to illustrate just how far the events have brought us by the novel's conclusion. I'd naturally assumed that the cover depicted some stock alien world (possibly Dellah) that Christine mentioned visiting; the revelation of where exactly this was is quite poignant. On that topic, the sequence where the Time Lords enter the bottle is so glorious and terrible that it's etched itself firmly on my mind. Their subsequent actions (and inactions) just ring incredibly true to me.
There's also the great joke about the final twelve pages of the second notebook... even better for someone like me, who'd flicked through beforehand to see how many chapters there were and saw the note about twelve missing.
This book plays games with our perceptions and manipulates our impressions of everything, but it does so in a beautiful and oddly touching way. I adored this. I love having my initial perceptions distorted time and again, so that every time I think I know what's going on, something else actually is. It's been quite a while since a Doctor Who book has actually rewarded me for thinking and I appreciate it enormously.
Chris's comment about the Pyramids is wonderful, making us the readers wonder exactly where we're supposed to fit into all this. The BenNAs have always had a fascination with questioning the line between fiction and reality and that ethos is never more apparent than it is in this book.
There's a great undercutting of fan assumptions, since we'd all assumed the Enemy was the People - completely blinding us as to their real identity. When we hear about Chris's encounter with the People (which is written almost exactly the same way as his downright disturbing encounter with the Daleks, interestingly enough) you suddenly realise just how clever this is. Well, I didn't guess it, at any rate and it was under my nose all the time. As I said, I really like this trick, even more for being so spread out over so many books. Oh, and when Christine points out that the pact with the People is where it all started to go wrong, you can't do anything but nod in dumb agreement.
There are also a number of little potshots at various things, which have already generated controversy on rec.arts.drwho (as they were very clearly intended to!) From The Edge of Destruction to Walking to Babylon, Lawrence pulls no punches... and yet this is criticism that isn't quite as obvious as it first appears. Take the discourse on Edge, for instance. While going to great lengths to point out how ridiculous it all is (and let's be honest, it is), it then turns around and mentions an explanation so rational and so logical that you wonder why it hasn't been here all along! This is deconstruction at its best: taking something apart to see how it works... in order to show just how good it was in the first place. Lawrence's love of Doctor Who isn't expressed in blind fanboy adoration, it's expressed in (at times) brutally honest criticism, showing that the series is so strong it can even withstand these attacks! I'm absolutely in awe.
In short, I cannot rave enough about Dead Romance. It's astonishingly good, it's vitally important to both the NA range and the Doctor Who one (as I'm sure we'll see soon enough) and most important of all is the skill with which it's presented. This is everything that Where Angels Fear could have been (though obviously in a different way), with a little more skill. Thoroughly, absolutely recommended.
Interference Part 3....that is what Dead Romance is. Oh yes, it was released a year before, with another company that no longer has the Doctor Who license, but it is in every way a Doctor Who novel.
Dead Romance predominantly takes place inside the bottle. The very bottle that IM Foreman had throughout Interference...the very bottle that went missing at the end. Well it turned up on Simmia KK98 in the possession of the Time Lords' lackeys.
We are introduced to this story by way of Christine Summerfield. A young drug addicted woman on the run. The entire novel is written from her point of view, as she remembers her adventures up the end of her world. She is one awesome character. She is so very three dimensional, so very real, which is where the irony lies.
Shortly after the story begins, she meets up with Chris Cwej, the intrepid policing companion that once traveled with the Doctor. Chris informs Christine that her universe is really inside of a bottle...that her Earth, her London, LONDON! doesn't exist in the 'real' universe. And a group of Time Travelers are trying to hide there to escape from the Gods, the future war mentioned in Alien Bodies and Interference
Chris Cwej is different. He has been brainwashed by the Time Lords into thinking that the Doctor was an Evil Renegade. Cwej did dealings with the People (of the Also People) and the Daleks (the machine creatures, as they are referred to). It was nice to see how easy malleable Chris was. How he had his own memories twisted to make out that the Doctor was really evil, and that his adventures were unjust. Chris was a new person in that respect. But he was still innocent in many ways, still had that child-like wide-eyed look to the world. Which is what made the revelations of Chris so shocking. I never saw it coming.
There are red herrings aplenty in Dead Romance. I fell for everyone of them. The narrative just takes you in, sits you down and takes total control over you. This is one of the best written novels I have ever read. It was engaging, the characters were so real that it hurts!
We get a surprise when a certain Father from Interference makes an appearance. It was quite a treat.
Then the Time Lords came. The narrative of this section was so gripping. I could picture it, even hear it, it became so real. The Time Lords coming through the bottle, miles of soldiers, walking in unison, then beginning their block transfer computation and changing the world. The attitude that the Time Lords had was exactly how the Time Lords should always have been (like in War Games)...powerful, omniscient (for the most part) and ruthless...a true terror to behold. Their attitude towards the 'unrealness' of the denizens of the bottle was shocking...they had no regard for their lives, even if they were 'generated'. This attitude was further grown by Chris Summerfield's revelation in the epilogue, about not caring about 'the other blonde woman'...in effect she became just like the Time Lord's, which makes the irony even more compelling. It is really cool too the cover of the book with the sphinx on it. Throughout the novel I was trying to figure out what the heck are all of the pyramids for...how is this relative to the novel. I really thought the cover itself was a red herring, and just another typical Doctor Who book cover that looks good but means nothing. And guess what? It actually was a plot device in itself! This was a picture the Christine Summerfield took shortly after the Time Lords took over! How original is that!
One interesting point here...Lawrence has the propensity of making boring, dull, uninteresting creatures of the Who universe, into scarey, formidable foes. From the Krotons in Alien Bodies, the Ogron's in Interference, and now the Time Lords in Dead Romance. As long as Lawrence doesn't get a hold of the Zarbi...
Another awesome touch was Christine herself, at the beginning, saying that she is lying about everything. But throughout the novel, the story progresses, we keep that at the back of our mind's, making us question everything we have read, are continue to read. Until yet another revelation....
I haven't one complaint about this novel at all...not one. In every way it is perfect. It deals flawlessly with previous Doctor Who continuity, keeps perpetuating the war between the Time Lords and the Enemy (although I thought the Enemy were the Gods themselves, then I thought it could be the People, or even that the People were the Gods - I am so hooked by this mystery), and keeps the mystery alive. Lawrence Miles is (in my books) the best thing to happen to Doctor Who. If that has to be Lawrence's epitaph then sobeit. It is so obvious of his love for the show, and it really comes through in his Tolkien-esque epic story writing. I really hope that Lawrence will come back and write more Doctor Who, because we so need it.
I could go on for hours about how good this novel is....about the intricate continuity that Lawrence exudes, about the characterization, about the quality of the prose, the writing style, and in-jokes, my theories on who everyone is, about what I think will happen, the characterization...oh I said that already. But I won't bore you anymore....by this book now. Read this book NOW. It should definitely be read immediately after Interference Book 2. Once again Lawrence, thank you!