on 9 November 2007
It might be uncharitable to note this, but the fact that I read crashingly mundane Dr Who NA novel `White Darkness' prior to `Of the City of the Saved' (the Faction paradox novels being spun off from Dr Who) could be seen as doing Purser-Hallard an enormous favour. But, to be honest, he doesn't need it. `Of the City of the Saved' is a fantastic novel. And I use that word strategically - the density of information and imagination it contains is comparable to Michael Chabon's `The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay', or Susanna Clarke's `Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell'. In other words, the book is considerably more of a literary achievement than the majority of Dr Who related books. It fact, it seems rather tragic that, arguably being part of a niche within a niche, so few people will come to read it, relatively speaking.
In its sheer invention, the book threatens to out-Miles Lawrence, as well as having much in common with the wittier style of (Faction Paradox series creator) Miles' earlier Dr Who books like `Christmas on a Rational Planet' and `Alien Bodies' - a sense of humour defuses the potential here for the novel to become mired in its own creativity, and enhances rather than defuses enjoyment of the book. The City of the title is such an endlessly fascinating concept, with a level of information constantly maintained that I at least found fascinating and highly enjoyable (although I realise this could have easily become self-indulgent; something it was saved from by a prose style that is both intelligent and humourous). I found the experience of reading the book enormously compulsive, finishing it in little over two days - compare and contrast with the equivalent enjoyment derived from Lawrence Miles' earlier Dr Who epic `Interference'.
If there is ever a further series of adult-oriented Dr Who books (from which Faction Paradox was originally spawned), I'd love to see Purser-Hallard's name on one of the spines. The couple of explicitly Dr Who-related references that I noticed (to the series, as opposed to the BBC's EDAs) - the half-Androgum cook, and the appearance of a Mechanoid in the attack at the end - suggest something of an abiding love for the series, and any new series of books with a bit more complexity than the current BBC offerings could do far worse than commission PH-P.
Speaking of complexity, one of the most satisfying aspects of the novel was its great numbers of twists - several of which served as red herrings - the majority of which, satisfyingly, I had in no way predicted, the bombardment of general information being somewhat helpful to the whodunit set-up.
The sheer amount of information, though undoubtedly one of the novel's strongest points, and part of its uniqueness, is something of a double-edged sword in that it does impact slightly negatively on the novel's characters. Which is not to say that they aren't likeable etc, but does perhaps hold the novel back from absolute greatness. Nevertheless, it's definitely up there with the best of Dr Who fiction, and I recommend it wholeheartedly, although any fans of `White Darkness' out there might want to locate something with a little less originality.
on 24 March 2014
The City of the Saved: a city at the end of time containing all of human history that you will just want to explore. Part Chandler-esque hard boiled gumshoe murder mystery, part political thriller, part galaxy-sized world building exercise, part philosophical treatise...
Excellently written, the chapters varying in style with the personality of the viewpoint character, and lots of "oh, I should have spotted that" reveals that are pleasingly obvious with hindsight.
You might want to read The Book of the War or other Faction Paradox first, if only because it increases the depth of the revelations contained herein, but definitely plan to read Of the City if the Saved.
‘Of the City Of the Saved…’ is the second stand alone novel in the shared universe of the Faction Paradox series, a series that takes the concepts of the Doctor Who mythology (Faction Paradox initially took life in the BBC’s range of 8th Doctor novels) and pushes them to the extreme by detailing a universe beset by warring temporal powers. As with all the non-BBC produced Faction Paradox material the copyrighted names have been changed, so ostensibly the series stands on it’s own two feet, yet long term 8th Doctor novel readers will be pleased to see this novel features the return of Compassion, the Doctor’s one-time companion and human TARDIS.
The setting is a bizarre enclave – supposedly safe from the effects of the War – set between the end of this universe and the beginning of the next, where every human (and semi-human) who has ever lived finds themselves re-incarnated in an immortal form, and a storyline that begins with an investigation into an impossible murder and develops into a full-blown civil war. The idea of a safety net ‘heaven’ underpinning the universe was a potentially worrying drama-killer, but Philip Purser-Hallard has a wonderful twist regarding the City’s real background, and the novel develops into an epic but rewarding science fiction world-building exercise. The novels only flaws are also it’s strengths – with a setting comprising all of humanity stacked next to each other, even though the author concentrates on only a relatively small area, there is a large cast list, many of whom have their own idiosyncratic modes of prose style, and this very richness of details sometimes makes this a rather bitty, fragmented novel. The fact that this novel also deals with the already established character of Compassion means that while this will be a treat for long term fans, I would suggest that readers will get more from this novel if they are familiar with her previous appearances in the 8th Doctor novels, or at the very least the reader has read the Faction Paradox ‘sourcebook’ The Book of the War. By no means an easy read, but a rewarding one.