Pyramids of Mars
The Curse of Fenric
|ISBN#||0 426 20436 0|
|Synopsis: A terrible accident scatters the TARDIS crew. Ace finds herself completely and totally alone in the hostile and alien time that is Ancient Egypt. Bernice's archeology skills are put to perhaps their greatest test. As the Doctor tries to heal, an old friend turns up. And the Doctor discovers old friends may be the deadliest of all...|
A Review by Tammy Potash 22/8/00
The 8th Doctor could never have survived this book. I half-suspect that the only reason the 7th actually lived through it was because the BBC denied Virgin permission to regenerate the Doctor in the NAs. The sublimely brilliant Kate Orman has written a torture-the-Doctor scene that puts Interference and The Blue Angel to shame (oh wait, I'm sorry, in Blue Angel it's the READER who is tortured, not the Doctor).
(Orman had to tone down quite a bit for Seeing I, because the 8th Doctor is fundamentally weak in a way that most people seem to unfairly stick on the 5th Dr. The worst she could do there was stick him in a luxurious quasi-prison and let him be bored. Of course for the Doctor, that is a form of torture...)
So the Dr. survives the three-week (yes you read that right) torture session at the beginning of the book, but even he comes within a gnat's hair of going permanently insane. "You faked the post-traumatic stress disorder," says Kadiatu, and the Doctor agrees, but I think he's lying.
Oh yes, Kadiatu's back. She's figured out how to time-travel. Believe me when I say this is a very bad development. I don't want to give anything away, but let's just say the Doctor is given a run for his money in the manipulation and hidden agenda departments.
A very, very grim book. I swear there was exactly one funny moment, to wit: "Ace went out on the balcony while the Doctor did squishy things with his pet brain." The pillow fight is fun, but it just doesn't crack me up like that line does.
Ah yes, Ace. This is the book where New Ace becomes a real person for the first time since her re-introduction in Deceit. Many people loathed what was done to Ace, though I'd take her over Sam any day; at least she's good for something even if she lacks in personality a bit. But here Ace is redeemed, and moves on to pursue a future apart from the Doctor (bonus points to Ms. Orman for utilizing Ian Briggs' vision in the book version of Curse of Fenric, while making her own unique job for Ace). As usual, Orman's meticulous research shows when Ace is stranded in Ancient Egypt.
Benny gets a somewhat better time of it (thank heaven we don't get to see her blond dye job) where she ends up after the trio are scattered following a botched rescue attempt of the Doctor). Someone has said that in a book with 2 or more companions, someone gets the short end of the stick, and unfortunately in this one it's Benny. This one's all the Doctor, Ace and Kadiatu. But then this balances out with Left-Handed Hummingbird and Benny's own book by Orman, Return of the Living Dad (a title which much have sent Robert Smith? into analeptic shock).
Eventually the trio are reunited and it is time to return to the Ants' ship and put an end to them before they can carry out their plans. The Ship is defeated by the Doctor at great cost to him; a lesser Doctor, or one with a lesser companion, would have died with it.
The writing is superb; I enjoyed the part where Kadiatu and Ace size each other up and draw identical conclusions for totaly different reasons. The cover's quite nice. Unless you are the most rad-hating person to walk the planet, you owe it to yourself to track this down. The Virgin NAs don't come any better.
A Review by Dominick Cericola 24/11/00
With the exception of Lawrence Miles' contributions, none of the EDAs have really benefited from, or even demanded, a second reading -- unlike the original line of Virgin 7th Doctor Adventures! I can say that, and mean it, as over the last year or so, I have been re-reading my collection of Virgin New Adventures from the beginning, in order (thanks to some great deals on eBay, I was able to complete my collection!). AND, on the second trip around, they seem to form a giant Tapestry, knitted from the very fibres of Time and Space -- one which no matter how many bad New Adventures there were (and while the numbers are less than those of bad EDAs), the good and great ones surely made up for them. Kate Orman's Set Piece is one such Adventure..
First thing that comes to mind when I reflect on the book is how well Orman wraps up the whole Ace-Doctor/Warrior-Healer Theme that has been running since the New Adventures began. She puts her own unique twist on it, presenting their Relationship (and yes, I think it can be called that) as one not just on a purely Physical Relationship (in this case, it seems to have grown from a "Father" figure, when she comes on board at the end of Dragonfire, to that of a very special Teacher/Professor, one whom has shared both Knowledge as well as his own form of Compassion), but also a Spiritual Bond (the scenes on the Ship, both in the beginning and nearing the conclusion, come to mind.. As well as the dream Ace has during her time in Ancient Egypt). I wish the BBC would allow Ace to make an appearance in one of the EDAs, perhaps under the careful guidance of Ms. Orman, or fellow New Adventure scribe, Paul Cornell..
The story itself is quite a heady trip, tho' not as angst-laden as one from Mortimore or Miles. There is a lot going on here -- we have the Doctor dealing with two situations: his shattered Memories and state of Mental Health following his escape from the Ants and their Ship, as well as figuring a way to stop the Ship from finishing its task, a task which, upon completion would cause the Universe, as well as Space and Time, to collapse in upon itself. If you figure in this adventure as well as that whole Brotherhood of Psychics story arc, you can see why the Doctor suffers the hearts attack he does in the opening of So Vile A Sin.
Then there is Ace, who as stated above is dealing with some Personal Issues of her own as well as trying to assist the Doctor, which is difficult when you are stuck back in Time thousands of years while the Doctor is in Paris at the height of the French Revolution. If one had to pick a way to write out a character, this one would win hands down -- even over Miles' farewell for the Fan-Hated Sam Jones (actually, I rather liked her!) at the conclusion of Interference. Orman even ties in Ace's three years in Spacefleet (during the gap between Love & War and Deceit), smoothing out the creases left by Darvill-Evans' treatment.
Benny is also dealing with a lot of Personal Issues -- what is her role in the Universe, as well as in the Doctor's life. But,. this is only dealt with on a very brief level, as this is primarily Ace's story. However, looking back, it would appear that Orman was foreshadowing issues and events that would transpire in Paul Cornell's Human Nature Hmm...
And, most surprising, even during the second time around was the return of Kadiatu. What an odd character, but one who is so damned interesting!! I like the way Orman handles her, keeping the edge that Aaronovitch gave her in her debut back in Transit, only she makes the edge a bit sharper! Kadiatu is another character lost since Virgin lost the Who rights -- pity, as she was an interesting character, one who could have been given her own series (even a limited series)..
Set Piece is a great addition to anyone's Who library, whether a casual Fan or Completist. In my Collection, it is one of the Core books, necessary to the Virgin Line (as opposed to that of, say, The Pit, which is just YUCK!). It's not difficult to come by, as I have even seen it at several of the used shops in Philly that I frequent. I'd grab it if you don't already have it. Cheers..!
A Review by Rob Matthews 2/1/02
In I Who, the unauthorised guide to Doctor Who novels, I read a quote from Jonathan Blum about what, for him, makes a good Doctor Who novel; 'stories that are' - I'm paraphrasing here- 'as imaginative and astounding to my 27 year-old eyes as the TV stories were to my 12 year-old eyes'.
This sums up completely my own attitude to the novels; I've never thought they should be written for children, or that they should be about nostalgia. Or rather: there's a place for nostalgia, but it should never outweigh the output of original stuff.
Two reasons for this -
a) I, like everyone most other people in the UK, am absolutely sick to the back teeth of commodified nostalgia, all those bloody 'I Love...' programmes that have been on TV for what seems like the past million years (if you don't live in the UK you won't know what I'm taking about - count yourself lucky!)
b) -This one's far more important - I've come to realise that I like Doctor Who far more now , upon rediscovering it as an adult, than I ever did as a child. Its only when you grow up and come to recognise what a bloody awful place the world can be that you realise how worthwhile it is to have a fiction that's about open-mindedness and fighting cruelty, only then when you discover what a profoundly brilliant kids show it actually was, and how easily it can spread its wings and become a profoundly brilliant grown-up entertainment too. Don't get me wrong - I don't hold it up there with Kafka or Fitzgerald or whatever, but I do think it's a thought-provoking, intelligent and inspiring form of light entertainment. It is, if you like, as heavyweight as light entertainment can get. So I think that to enjoy Doctor Who mainly for nostalgic reasons is to undervalue it.
And I think Kate Orman's Set Piece is one of the best of the novels because it takes the Doctor Who concept as far as it can be stretched into the realms of 'proper book'.
It's a book about Time, and about the rhythms of civilisation over time. Its nominal story is almost completely irrelevant, one more battle against a monster amidst an endless stream of battles against monsters. But because that's the point, I don't feel cheated. The book works because Kate Orman writes as if she were a time traveller, like really. The act of stepping into different pieces of history is not, as in so much Doctor Who fiction (Timewyrm: Exodus for one), a matter of 'Well, here we are in this milieu; gather round and I'll tell you the generic conventions we need to observe'. Orman writes with a kind of temporal democracy: each period, each place, is as valid and real as the other. History is not a punchline or a backstory, it's a place where people live and die, not one where extras in silly costrumes get zapped in the background. Sometimes its a place where your entire worldview is changed simply because you know your death is going to come that much sooner.
The worldview of this novel is very much a stoic one - it accepts that there will always be another battle to be fought and that 'everyone we save now just gets to die later'. There's a battle looming in Ancient Egypt, there's another one impending in Revolutionary France, there's a third stretching back from the future across history. Its pessimistic, and yet it isn't, because in the face of this unbearable bleakness, the human spirit - Ace - fights on. And she does it because, dammit, it's just right to do so. This is a story - and I'm not kidding here - about the place of a mortal life in the chaos of eternity. And if I could find a less horribly pompous way of phrasing that, I'd be Kate Orman.
El Viaje Mysterioso Di Nuestro Jarris (The Mysterious Journey Of Mr Harris) by Matthew Harris 26/6/02
I have arrived. After years in the wilderness, I have finally managed to seriously read a piece of official Doctor Who literature (well, there was Managra... but I was 10 so it went over my head. Oh, and The Eight Doctors. But that doesn't count). The book is Set Piece. The year is one.
And when I say wilderness, I mean it literally. Slavering Doctor Who fandom here in Cornwall (a sticky-out bit in the bottom-left hand side of Britain) constitutes... well, me, basically. Add to that the fact that I live in one of the least populated areas of the county, and it's not hard to see why it's taken until now for our local library to stock anything in an original Doctor Who vein.
I had the choice of two NAs, both (and I consider this a stroke of luck) by Kate Orman. Return Of The Living Dad was just edged out by Set Piece for two simple reasons:
a) the fact that the former seemed to deal with NA continuity, and that would probably fly over my head even higher than Managra did,
and b) its rubbish, rubbish title. Oh, what a rubbish title.
Enough of the self indulgent crap. Set Piece, then. The major issue it had to deal with initially was accessibility to a wide-eyed newbie. Now, I knew vaguely about Benny, and I knew vaguely about New Ace, so I was prepared for them. But I groaned inwardly when, flicking through the book prior to actually sitting down and reading the damn thing, I chanced upon the word "Kadiatu". Kadiatu. A name I'd heard, but a character of whom I had no experience whatsoever.
One up to Kate Orman. She manages to explain who Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart is, without actually physically explaining her in a bulleted list or anything. To put it more clearly: she manages to introduce Kadiatu to the fresh-faced innocents, without alienating the grizzled veterans. So as a result of this book, I can consider reasonably conversant with Kadiatu. If I ever found myself having a conversation about her at a dinner party, for example, I could probably hold my own. Yay that.
Not sure about the New Ace. This is her last book as a regular (although she comes back enough times, apparently), and she seems to have mellowed out, by all accounts. As if I'd know. I'll have to do some more research (he said, in a feeble attempt to make this sound like big important stuff instead of a spin-off series from a kid's show).
I was actually more interested in Benny Summerfield. She's possibly one of the most talked-about companions of all, despite never being seen in the flesh, and only occasionally being heard. I knew more about her than Kadiatu, but it still didn't really stretch beyond She's An Archaeologist and She's Probably An Alcoholic.
One book and she's grown on me already. Yay that also. She seems - and this is just from the one book, feel free to disagree strongly and\or violently with knives - oddly reminiscent of a more intelligent Sarah Jane. Which can only be a good thing. And of the four main characters, she's probably the only one who doesn't have a really bad time. I mean a REALLY bad time. The Doctor in particular has his arm broken several times, placed in deep-freeze, and has several large metal insects attempting to suck out his brain, one way or another. It's all very grim. Not to say fractured - in fact, some of the scattershot narrative reminded me of the great Bob Silverberg (what do you mean you've never heard of him? Go and read Lord Valentine's Castle at once!). This is also a good thing. For example, look at the paragraph that is chapter 12, entitled "In Which Ace Traverses A Tunnel Within The Space-Time Vortex, Unprotected By A Force Shield And Uncertain Of Whether The Walls Will Collapse".
Did I say grim? Well, it is. Quite horrifically so. But it's also peppered with extremely dark humour. Like the joke at the start of Chapter 15, I won't quote verbatim, partly because of my word count, but mostly out of consideration. Or the non-existent Shakespeare\Lewis Carroll quotes. Actually, there's rather a lot of this quotation, to the point where I was almost shouting at Orman to start the damn book already.
So she did. And strap me in the chair and snap my spinal cord if it wasn't the best and most disturbing opening two chapters I could have concieved. Through the eyes of a Ms Cohen, we are shown around Ship, which incidentally is made of flesh, and given front-row passes to the horrifiying torture of prisoner 24, the Gingerbread Man. No prizes for guessing who he is, although I didn't manage to guess who he was. He was never actually described to me, and I was so busy gawping at the sheer horrificocity of the whole set up, the whole question of his identity never occured to me.
As evidenced by the startling cover photo (can you say "artistic licence on the part of Tony Masero"?) at the core of the book is Ace. As already mentioned, this is her "last" adventure with your Doctor, and so she's given much more space than the Doctor, Benny or Kadiatu, most of which is in Egypt. As also already mentioned, she does seem to me not so much the rock-hard, angry young woman New Ace, by all accounts, is. She's softened. Not fluffy-kitten softened, obviously; she's still terrifying. But she seems to have got that "nice" edge back. Orman peppers the narrative with neat references to Dragonfire, Sabalom Glitz... and at one point Ace is retelling Remembrance Of The Daleks to a crowd of ancient Egyptians. Again, I say neat. And yes, I am aware of the crime that is acknowledging that the show had a past, but I don't subscribe to that myself. For fan...(I can't even say it) to really annoy me, it would have to constitute a bulleted list of past adventures, foes and companions.
It all culminates in one of the best leaving scenes since Hand Of Fear, Warriors' Gate or, ironically, Dragonfire. It's hard to describe, except it just... feels right, somehow (By the way, did I mention that this Doctor genuinely feels to me like Sylv McCoy? He does, you know). And more power to Kate Orman for remaining true to even obscure Doctor Who continuity - namely the novelization of The Curse Of Fenric, which ends with the Doctor going to Paris to talk with Ace - and not letting it ruin a thing. In fact, it's woven into the narrative! Woven into it! Like a needle and thread! Where was she in the later Saward era?
So then. My first excursion into the NAs (years too late, but there it is), and I am so glad it was this one I started with, rather than, say, Falls The Shadow, or Transit. Several up to Kate Orman.
Oh, and how do you do CPR on a man with two hearts?
A Review by Terrence Keenan 21/8/02
This was a pleasant surprise.
Kate Orman's Set Piece is really Seeing I done right and (Thank Goodness!) free of PC political manifesto diatribes. There is some of the Time's Champion crap in there, but it's kept to a minimum.
Anyhoo... it opens up with a Torture the Doc chapter, but done with enough style to where it didn't cause me violent fits of anger. But, more than that, the first chapter sets the literary style of the book, with dream sequences/hallucinations woven nicely into reality. On a pure literature level, Set Piece is strong work.
The TARDIS crew are flung into different points in time on Earth. Ace lands in Ancient Egypt, and the Doc and Bernice 100 years apart in Paris, more or less. The plot loosely evolves from there, as its more character & theme based than story. Orman is writing Ace's good-bye, and transforming her into Earth's Champion, which works more than the Time's Champion bit. It's also about cause and effect, and how time isn't as malleable as one believes.
The Doctor is reasonable, a more flawed dark/manipulator styled 7th Doc. But, between the flaws, the coaching of Ace and the fact he confronts Ship head on at the end, balance this out.
Bernice? Well done, although her time is limited. And then there's Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart who is trying to play the same game as the Doctor. Orman has Kadiatu ride the hero/villain line perfectly.
What I really liked about this book, which Orman did to similar effect in Year of Intelligent Tigers, is the use of motifs/symbols. The butterfly/chaos idea reappears in a few conversations, each time with a slightly different meaning. The other was the story of Sun Tzu and the Concubine armies -- appearing in the prologue and having a payoff toward the end. Sun Tzu's philosophies also neatly tie into the butterfly/chaos ideas as well. Definitely not something you'd find in TV Tie-in fiction everyday, and deserving of much praise.
Color me impressed. It probably is Kate Orman's best book -- of the one's I've read.
Check it out for yourself.
A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 18/5/03
Strangely enough, the first word that comes into my head when thinking about Set Piece is "pleasant". Now, "pleasant" may seem like an odd way to describe a book that opens with a 30-page extended torture sequence filled with disturbing imagery and psychological terrors, and which is punctuated by scenes of people vomiting. Yet, as mesmerizing, shocking and disconcerting as those passages were, it was mostly the carefree and relaxed feel of the story that I ended up taking with me.
The plot is robust and acceptable, but it mostly takes a backseat to the character study of the three protagonists. We see the Doctor coping, first with some extreme forms of torture, and then working his way through a science-fiction mystery threatening the whole fabric of space/time. Benny tries to adjust to life sans Doctor in 18th Century France, and makes a journey with an archeological expedition in an attempt to reunite herself with her TARDIS crewmates.
But the character most focused upon in Set Piece is, of course, Ace. She is thrown backwards in time to Ancient Egypt, becoming, at various times, a warrior, a bodyguard and a waitress. In short, pretty much everything that Ace went through during her television and book adventures is brought to the forefront and explored. It makes for a leisurely pace, but Orman's writing skills mean that it is never boring or dull. Even the relatively low-stakes subplots have a real weight and importance attached to them. When the three are eventually reunited, the plot from the beginning is brought back to the forefront, but it almost feels like an afterthought. The save-the-fabric-of-the-universe storyline is acceptable; it just doesn't carry the same gravity that the middle sections of the book do.
The plot moves fairly slowly to the benefit of the in-depth look at the characters. The menace vaguely alluded to on the back cover remains mostly out of sight for much of the adventure, making but a few menacing cameos. There's no real sense of urgency about the alleged danger, yet this doesn't come across as a mistake since it's obvious that the focus of the story is not on the mechanics of the plot. The real story-mover comes in the form of Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart, an honest-to-God character rather than an ill-defined and vague alien menace. Her own inner conflict allows her to have some great scenes with the Doctor. The ambiguity surrounding her motivations and loyalties (brought about by a variety of reasons) feel authentic rather than gimmicky, and this allows her to be a genuinely unpredictable and dangerous character.
The first time I read Set Piece, I thought it was okay. Rereading it a few weeks ago, I thought it was better than I remembered. Skipping through the pages, to refresh my memory before typing up this review, I found myself liking it even more. It's quite a thoughtful book, and my appreciation increases the more I think about certain elements and events. There are great little moments that are fun to read at the time, and there are loads of additional things that will have you taking a second, a third, and a fourth look back. Recommended.
A Review by Finn Clark 23/11/04
Brilliant, shocking, unforgettable. This book contains some of the most powerful writing ever published by Virgin. Normally I prefer Kate's work when it's co-written with Jonathan Blum, but behind this goofy cover lies something genuinely special.
Unfortunately the good bit only lasts thirty pages and after that I got somewhat bored.
Oh, it's well written. It's Kate's best NA, in fact. She takes the then-unloved New Ace (little did we know...) and gives her a send-off as good as anyone could hope for. Kate Orman books are famous for their Doctor-torture, time travel, artificial intelligences and more, but she's also worked harder than most with the Doctor's companions. The tragedy of the OrmanBlum is its doomed struggle against the Sam Jones Monster, but before that came So Vile A Sin, Return of the Living Dad and of course Set Piece. Even books like The Left-Handed Hummingbird and The Room With No Doors shine a strong light on their respective companions and dangle the idea of their departures.
Ace leaves here with a dose of compassion, a side-order of feminism and a sprinkling of thoughtfulness regarding continuity's forgotten loose threads. Of course she's never really stayed away since, returning in later NAs like Head Games, Happy Endings and Lungbarrow, but that's not Kate's fault.
There's Egypt in two timezones, presumably researched as thoroughly as was Mexico in The Left-Handed Hummingbird. I'm not really qualified to say one way or the other, but it convinced me. There's also lots of time spent in France, which again seems well portrayed. There are even flashes of Chinese and Japanese culture, to which Kate would return (well, the latter) in The Room With No Doors. To state the obvious, in all sorts of ways this isn't an English book. That's always healthy to see in Doctor Who.
Unfortunately the plot didn't grip me. To an extent this is a problem with rereading... when I first read the book in 1995, Ship and its Ants were established in those first thirty pages as being so horrific that to a certain extent my interest carried on through the book on sheer momentum. It's like Hitchcock's Psycho or Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Neither of those are particularly gore-filled movies (quite the opposite, in fact), but they have such famous shock moments that everything else simply hangs from them. I think it's the same here.
But I'd read it before. I knew that the Ants were mindless drones and that Ship dropped out of things after Chapter Two. As the central villain of the book, Ship and its Ants are kinda like big rocks. Not bright. Not exactly pulling their weight as active protagonists. Not even particularly threatening, although a whole bunch of them landing on your head would certainly hurt. Instead the book degenerates into Ace wandering around Ancient Egypt and doing... uh, stuff. As a character study of Ace in her farewell novel, it's fine, but it sure doesn't go anywhere fast. Benny wanders around Egypt a few millennia later, again doing... stuff. The Doctor lounges around a French farmhouse with Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart from Transit. Those scenes are the most interesting, I suppose, but even so this is one of those books where you could follow it happily by only reading every other page.
(Okay, that paragraph wasn't completely accurate. Ship has agents and plans. However I can't say I was desperately thrilled by that... Ship can be a terrifying antagonist, but not when it's trying to be Ernst Stavro Blofeld.)
There's namechecking (sigh) and more of Virgin's bloody anthropomorphic personifications, e.g. Death, Time, Pain (kill me now). There are little touches I liked, though. The introductory Sun Tzu anecdote was a laugh. There's a bit on p113 that's really creepy if viewed as accidental TVM foreshadowing. The title is cleverer than it looks, too. "Set Piece" = "Sutekh Piece", remember? The guy had several names. Finally there's a new and nifty way of making Whoniverse time travel dangerous, which I've always liked, though sadly I gotta knock off those goodwill points for making New Ace a time-travelling Agent of Psycho at the end.
Overall, this is a very worthy novel. On first reading, it probably comes across as highly unpredictable with a sense of menace around every corner. Unfortunately it loses a lot once you've been around those corners once before. Read it, by all means. And I can't heap enough praise on those first thirty pages, which took my breath away. If nothing else, it's a well-regarded novel from a well-regarded author. It's honest, serious and entirely devoid of the author's later fluffy bunny tendencies. You could do much, much worse.
A Review by Matthew Clarke 23/12/12
I found Kate Orman's The Left-Handed Hummingbird a little on the heavy-going side, so I was a bit worried about this one. Nevertheless, as it is Ace's departure story (one of them...), it was pretty essential reading. I was pleased to find that it is a much easier read than The Left-Handed Hummingbird and much more enjoyable, while still having all the Hurt/Comfort elements that Kate Orman seems to love so much (amusingly, she actually entitles one chapter Hurt/ Comfort!).
The opening chapter is remarkably disturbing. A woman is forced to participate in brutal surgical procedures against her will, along with other humans. For three weeks, she has been participating in the torture of an escape-prone prisoner who turns out to be... have a guess. As with Kate Orman's previous novel, Set Piece is a novel that deals with physical, as well as emotional pain.
Set Piece sees the return of Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart, the very likable character introduced in Transit. She is effectively re-introduced without tedious exposition. She comes across as a highly intelligent, but also a very dangerous character. She has now mastered time travel, with terrible consequences.
Kate Orman clearly loved the character of Ace and in this novel she gives her depths that have not been matched in any other New Adventure novel. This is a truly mature Ace. She is not the confused teenager, but neither is she the thuggish and mentally scarred veteran that we see in previous New Adventures. Set Piece has Ace stranded in ancient Egypt and adapting to new circumstances, while at the same time having a profound self-consciousness about her role in them. Finally, she becomes a sort of Time's Champion, protecting earth from menaces created by rifts in time. It might have been nice to have seen Ace become a Time Lady, as was originally planned, but this is a strong departure for her too.
My favorite part of the book was the parts set in ancient Egypt and Ace's interaction with that culture. It felt very authentic, much more than the attempts of some other writers to do ancient Egypt. The stuff with the Paris Commune was also interesting, even if my conservative instincts are irritated by Ace siding with the revolutionaries. I was a bit irritated by the presence of a number of dream sequences. They are quite well done, but dream sequences in the Virgin books have been done to death. It is very much an NA cliche.
The Doctor is very well written here. Kate Orman very much goes for the NA Time's Champion interpretation. Accordingly, she makes him quite god-like, yet at the same time quite vulnerable. With the presence of Kadiatu and the focus on Ace, Benny still manages to have an interesting part to play in the book. She is perhaps less irritating than in other novels, but I still dislike her overconfidence.
The plot about metallic ants taking advantage of time rifts is very much secondary to the character studies going on. The plot is simply there to develop the relationship between the Doctor and companions. Regrettably, the threat is apparently to the whole of time itself (a very Moffaty trope). I really dislike stories in which the entire universe is threatened. It just reduces the scale of the Doctor Who universe and is never really believable. We might also ask why the Time Lords don't deal with a threat to 'time itself'.
This is a novel about history. It is about how history is paved with suffering and tragedy and so often feels futile. It is about how individuals relate to history, playing their part and ultimately being unable to alter its course. Yet the novel urges the notion that every struggle, every battle, every tear shed really does mean something whatever the outcome.
Set Piece was a massive improvement on The Left-Handed Hummingbird and is a great example of how angst can be done really well.
An Ace in the Hole by Jacob Licklider10/10/18
Before I can get to analyzing Set Piece, I'm going to offer my opinions on Ace, as this is the novel where she ends her travels with the Doctor; at least until Volumes 1 and 2 of The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield give her one last hurrah with the Doctor. Ace has always been my favorite of the Doctor Who companions from my first two Seventh Doctor stories (Remembrance of the Daleks and The Curse of Fenric), to the portrayal in the audios and even to the darker version introduced in the Virgin New Adventures novel Deceit. I have had my criticisms with her character, as some authors, mainly Christopher Bulis, Justin Richards, Simon Messingham and Daniel Blythe, didn't have any real idea of how to use her in context of a novel. They made her way too hardened in their novels, while other authors like Paul Cornell, Andrew Cartmel and most recently Kate Orman knew that she was still essentially the same character, just more experienced. She has been the highlight of the period of rather lackluster novels beginning with Strange England and apparently ending with Warlock.
Set Piece was no exception to this rule, as Kate Orman knows exactly how to make Ace likable and work as the main character of a novel. Orman makes Ace not take anything from anyone, especially a man, as she is trapped in Ancient Egypt for most of the novel, but Orman still makes her sympathetic. It's been the first time since Love and War that we've actually seen how much the Doctor's meddling affects her. Orman's style of prose also helps Ace seem very natural and makes it very easy to hear Sophie Aldred in the role once again. This is helped by the poignant afterward written by Aldred reflecting on the character of Ace as a whole.
Set Piece involves the TARDIS team being split through time, as a race of sentient robots called the Ants are trying to take over the universe and find time travel. Ace was sent to Ancient Egypt, Benny sent to Cairo, Egypt in the eighteenth century and the Doctor to the Siege of Paris in 1871 where Kadiatu Lethebridge-Stewart has been stuck after time-travel experiments performed sometime after Transit. The plot is a very interesting one, as it plays out like a game of chess, perfect for the New Adventures, which I really quite liked. The only problems come up with Kadiatu, who is constantly switching sides, which becomes very confusing to see where it's going to end up after many flip flops. Kadiatu is still an interesting character, continuing her development from Transit, which really works here.
Benny also gets some significant development, even if she is put on the backburner so we can completely focus on Ace. She gets a great moment at the end of the novel when Ace decides to stay behind and Benny tries to get her to stop. She also spends some great time with Vivant Denon, who is a character who has his best moments in the epilogue. The Doctor is also great here, even though he is absent for most of the novel with Orman going for a Birthright-style story with the Doctor working from the background. This comes with a warning, however, as the first thirty pages of the novel take the form of a brutal torture scene ending with the near-regeneration of the Seventh Doctor. He feels the regeneration coming and is not sure his companions will be able to cope with his new incarnation. Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor hadn't been revealed at the time of writing this novel, but the staff knew Eight would be a reaction to the manipulative nature of Seven, which Orman works well with. This is also a novel that actually has the TARDIS team sharing in cameraderie, and they feel a lot more like they're friends with each other. They're almost on an equal plane, with their reunion resulting in a friendly pillow fight between each other.
To summarize, Set Piece is without a doubt one of the best New Adventures that we've had in ages. It has a few problems but is an improvement on Orman's first effort, which was already great as a novel. 95/100