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The story opens with a pointless and endless sequence of the Doctor and Benny surviving some technobabble invader, which eventually deposits them in the main portion of the plot. If this section had been removed, nothing at all would have been lost. I never really understood the lengths that some authors will go through to insert the Doctor and companion team into the story. CAVES OF ANDROZANI aired here recently, and the difference between that opening and SANCTUARY's couldn't have been more pronounced. Robert Holmes doesn't bother with long explanations about why the Doctor happened to land on Androzani Minor; he just launches into the story at full-speed. SANCTUARY would have been greatly helped had the introduction explanations been completely removed. The only reason they seem to exist here is for the author to indulge in numerous and inane continuity references. The book is virtually at a standstill until McIntee gets all of this out of his system.
The main problem that I had with SANCTUARY is that is was deathly boring. There was a one hundred, fifty-page section in the middle that I simply had to force myself to get through. The single interesting thing going on was the nicely understated relationship developing between Benny and Guy de Carnac. I looked forward to these sections to pull me through the tedium that was the rest of the story. I just couldn't make myself care about any part of the main plot. The Doctor's subplot is dull. The whodunit is dull. The Inquisition-era politics is dull. The fight scenes go on for far too long, and they're dull. The base-under-siege mentality is unoriginal, and dull. I simply couldn't get excited about any of these parts of the story. If I ever decide to reread this one, I think I'll restrict myself to only reading the Guy portions, and to completely skip the rest.
Despite not liking most of SANCTUARY, if McIntee's Guy trilogy of books ever materializes, I'd be interested in reading them. Guy de Carnac is not only one of the few good things about this novel, but he is a genuinely intriguing character in his own right. His reactions to his surroundings, his attitude, his point of view and his back-story are all quite strong. He does fall into cliché at times, but is a solid enough character in other ways to rise above that. One of the best moments in the story comes as a dream/flashback sequence in the later half, featuring an examination of Guy's background. It's a shocking moment, and one that shines as a giant diamond in a sea of turgid writing.
As well as being a great cure for insomnia, the book does itself no favors on the prose-front either. When it's not purple, it's workmanlike. When it's not workmanlike, it's awkward. When it's not awkward, it's incomprehensible. The aforementioned dream sequence is the only point in the book when the actual writing itself doesn't interfere with the story being told.
And, yet, I feel that buried in here somewhere was a really good story. If the numerous fight scenes had been harshly trimmed back, if the lethargic opening scenes were cut entirely, if some of the secondary characters had been written as people rather than as instruments to further the plot, if the editor had been a little more liberal with the red ink. If all these things had been done, I think we'd be looking at a really good story. Of course, it would only be about half as long and would probably need to be printed in a gigantic font to boost the page-count, but we can't have everything, can we?
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