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St Anthony's Fire

By Mark Gatiss

Book review by Paul Scoones

By the time I began to read this book, I knew enough about it to expect that most of the major characters were lizards - namely the Betrushian factions of the Cutch and the Ismetch. This did not inspire confidence as in my experience of science fiction novels the writer will usually make the main characters so alien that the reader is lost in the wholly unfamiliar names, culture and rites. In short, the writer achieves an 'authenticity' for the species at the expense of the readers' enjoyment. In the case with St Anthony's Fire, however, writer Mark Gatiss may have gone too far in the other direction. The Betrushians are all too 'normal'; apart from the occasional reminder that these creatures are lizards they are just another race with very human personalities and ambitions.

As displayed in Gatiss's previous New Adventure, Nightshade, his skill as a writer lies primarily in characterisation. He captures the Doctor, Bernice and Ace perfectly but also creates very convincing and rounded personalities for his original players. The leaders of the Church of Saint Anthony are a sadistic bunch of individuals whose practices are made all the more disturbing because of the strength of Gatiss's writing.

At first Gatiss appears to have quite blatantly removed Ace from his novel; in the opening pages for no apparent reason she elects to take a break from the Doctor and Bernice. Aware that many New Adventures writers have become disaffected with her character, I thought at first that Gatiss was making the least possible effort to allow himself to write a Doctor and Bernice novel. It transpires however that this was not his intention, as Ace forms the central focus of an important subplot which impacts on the climax.

Whilst the plot and characterisation is interesting enough, the book suffers too much from the 'run around and get captured' type of padding near the beginning, but the pace does pick up. Bernice's trip to the city of Porsim with Liso serves to add very little to the plot but does however pad out the book.

The most remarkable thing about this book is that it stands out from almost every other New Adventure in that it is almost completely devoid of continuity references. As a truly 'stand-alone' novel St Anthony's Fire would make an ideal point of introduction to the book series for new readers.

This item appeared in TSV 42 (January 1995).

Index nodes: St Anthony's Fire