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Falls the Shadow

By Daniel O'Mahony

Book review by Chris Girdler

Falls the Shadow begins as a tribute to Ghost Light, even more so than Strange England was. The first supporting character met by one of the TARDIS trio is a raving madman, the Doctor finds a wardrobe filled with an intense unnatural light, and there's something lurking in the cellar... Daniel O'Mahony's debut is a lot easier to follow than Ghost Light or Strange England. Whilst on the surface it seems naggingly familiar, it offers more than most New Adventures.

There are very few continuity references but the unique characters borrow from the series' past. Winterdawn is similar to Curse of Fenric's Dr Judson, a great mind trapped in a wheelchair. Truman and Cranleigh share characteristics of George Cranleigh from Black Orchid. Page is from the books Dimension Riders and Tragedy Day: a female assassin on a deadly mission who makes Ace look innocent and sweet. Likewise, the grey man is the mysterious stranger who might be the Doctor, much the same as Muldwych (Birthright) and Braxiatel (Theatre of War). Gabriel and Tanith are like evil counterparts to Sapphire and Steel but more insensate and less individualised.

By now, you've probably got the impression that Falls the Shadow is a retread of Ghost Light with a handful of unoriginal characters - it's not. It is one of the best New Adventures yet. The dialogue is sharp and clever, with some interesting observations on society and the individual's relationship to it. It is a lengthy book but location and the amount of characters is restricted, a good move following the number of writers who feel they need to cram their novels with unmemorable and unnecessary characters just to reach the page count.

One of the downfalls of First Frontier was the lack of a sense of threat. Falls the Shadow delivers a seemingly unstoppable enemy against a cast who are trapped within a claustrophobic environment and who have particular disabilities that hinder their fight back. Winterdawn cannot walk, Sandra cannot see, Cranleigh has lost his mind, Truman has no face, Page has no identity, Qxeleq is alone in an alien environment. The Doctor, a potential source of intimidation, is shipped off to the interstitial gap so Gabriel and Tanith can do a little torturing with little to stand in their way. We're not talking Marquis de Sade here, but these two can get pretty nasty. O'Mahony must have realised that there has been too much focus on Ace's troubled childhood and gives us a brief yet tantalising look at Benny's past.

The one thing that bugged me about this book was Benny's 'death'. Why do it? We know she'll make it to the end of the book, she's on the cover of Parasite. Ace has already suffocated on the moon and had her neck broken. The Doctor died early in Blood Heat and was executed on Peladon. Having lost its finality, death has been rendered trivial and such teasers will undermine actual deaths of companions, a likely event in the near future. I'm sick of the Doctor's guilty conscience, it's getting repetitive and depressing to read about.

Ultimately, Falls the Shadow is a compelling book. Its strength comes from interaction between characters; the friction between Page and Ace, the ironic competitiveness between Truman and Cranleigh, the bond between Benny and the grey stranger. With these memorable characters is a story well told, with a shift of emphasis delivered at the right moment. There are surreal and sometimes shocking moments but the plot counterbalances such scenarios without alienating the readership with complex justifications. Weird can be wonderful. Falls the Shadow proves it. (9/10)

Book review by Francis Cooke

Falls the Shadow is a great book, with only one bad point.

The idea didn't at first appeal to me, as it seemed too similar to Strange England. but Paul Scoones' review encouraged me, and so I approached the book with high hopes which were not disappointed. Tanith is probably my favourite character in the book apart from the regulars, because although she has the same character as her brother Gabriel, she gets all the best lines. The margin that makes her my favourite character is very slim though, as all of the characters are amazingly believable people.

Now for that minor little point I didn't enjoy (if you haven't read the book, don't read this bit). Benny travels to a different world populated by giant heads and has some fun there. I don't usually mind this, but this part was just nothing compared with the wonderful Shadowfell scenes. I think the main problem with this was that the part with just Benny in Cathedral was also a big explanation, and instead of alternating it with the scenes at Shadowfell, it was given to us in one big wallop. Things get back to the excellent standard once Tanith and Gabriel arrive on the scene though.

Overall a brilliant book. Buy it.

This item appeared in TSV 43 (March 1995).

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