So Vile A Sin

"I don't know whether there's a place where we go when we die. I don't know if Roz believed there was one. But if... if there is a place like that, and it isn't a fair place... it damn well will be once she's done with it."

It's a return to the 30th century and the waning days of the Earth Empire with this book, a sequel of sorts to Original Sin (and half-a-dozen other NAs). One of the more infamous novels of the whole New Adventure series, So Vile A Sin has the distinction of being the only one that was significantly delayed by six months. This meant that the book's original big surprise ending - the death of Roz Forrester - wasn't exactly a big surprise by the time the book was finally released. But... did this impact my enjoyment of the book in any way?

Well... no, not really. The book begins with Roz's funeral and intersperses brief interludes set in this time period with long flashback sequences that tell the story detailing the death of the Empress, the turmoil as rival Houses fight it out to become the next Emperor, and the Doctor's manipulation of and by events, culminating in Roz "stepping into history". The book mainly takes place in the 30th century, a few years after the events of Original Sin. As in Original Sin, 30th century Earth is a rich, complex environment. The humans in it are still believably human - by which I mean that they are still flawed, imperfect, passionate beings rather than the perfect selfless future postulated by Star Trek and its ilk - but the culture, politics and technology of this future are well thought out. This isn't just the modern day with lasers instead of guns and spaceships instead of cars. The change of Roz's death from surprise ending to inescapable reality, if anything, actually helps this book. It moves at a fair pace, building to the inevitable and inescapable climax. The idea that the Doctor is capable of changing things on a vast political and historic scale but seemingly powerless to control things on a personal level is writ large through this book, and it's an interesting contrast; on the one hand he's a veritable force of nature shaping the fate of the known galaxy, on the other he's a lonely old man trying to do what he thinks is best but unable to control the outcome or prevent things running away from him.

The Doctor is written extremely well, but then neither Orman nor Aaronovitch seemingly know how to write badly for the 7th Doctor. This is a Doctor who has noticeably matured from the early NAs, a Doctor who feels the weight of responsibility to both history and his friends, who is trying to balance the needs of both. One nice touch in this book is the parallel versions of himself that the Doctor encounters - a 3rd Doctor who never regenerated, a 4th Doctor who stayed on Gallifrey as the President of the Time Lords, a 6th Doctor dressed in black who was badly affected by his encounter with Fenric, a 7th Doctor who doesn't always have a plan. Fortunately these alternates aren't gratuitous and never threaten to turn the story into a multi-Doctor knockabout. The Doctor's companions are also handled very well - Roz's world-weary cynicism combines well with her own sense of duty and loyalty, and Chris's almost child-like innocence never becomes and unbearable as it sounds. The supporting cast never become cipher-like and there's a plethora of nods to former Aaronovitch and Orman novels to please the long-term NA fan.

This is a great book. A rich background, a decent plot that wraps up many loose ends from preceding NAs, the death of a companion managed believably and compassionately, and a real "end of an era" feel... brilliant. It's not a great book to jump in with, but as the late NA it's hardly supposed to be... it's very much a novel that won't work for only casual fans. I just enjoy the complexity, the feeling that the events in this book are part of a larger universe and not simply stand-alone events that don't impact anything outside of this book, the Doctor's mature relationships with his companions, the way that you feel drawn in to the culture of the 30th century from the start. Like many of the NAs this book really does show up the new series novels for the weak, inconsequential TV tie-ins that they are, and there's a strong sense of reality and plausibility to the characters' actions and feelings in this book that even the new series hasn't really surpassed. I, for one, mourn the fact that the new series will deny us books that have the same breadth, scale, and sheer magnitude of ideas as this one for the foreseeable future.


Review by Valedictorian


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