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Tomb of Valdemar

By Simon Messingham

Book review by Brad Schmidt

Strange England was dull. The Face Eater was dull. Both current-Doctor novels... Zeta Major was brilliant, proving Simon Messingham more capable of capturing the past... So it's a pity this pattern had to be shattered by Tomb of Valdemar, which presents the Fourth Doctor and Romana I in a suitable environment - gloomy, cloistering evil, and eventually dull.

Like February's other offering, Valdemar is really more fantasy, since it offers very little explanation on any understandable level. The scenario is perfect fodder for a season under the shadow of the Black Guardian, bandying about destruction and Dark Gods in abundance. The story begins well, and is interestingly presented, yet writing about the methods of telling a story and placing an author amongst the main cast aren't clever enough ideas to supersede Messingham's own obligations to his readers - little is clearly explained. Everything that takes place happens on a metaphysical level beyond our comprehension, apparently, which is convenient for an author possibly stumped for explanations.

For the almost overly casual first-person medium in which Valdemar occurs, it's surprising that it eventuates so lengthy. Whole chunks of the novel could be excised, so too whole characters. This is the sort of tepid galaxy- threatening adventure that usually takes place in 245 pages led by Bernice Summerfield.

One of the key characters is a psychic adolescent who automatically brings to mind the Virgin Master of the Land of Fiction (Conundrum, Head Games, Happy Endings) and, the other is an irritating author-type, Miranda Pelham, who's sadly a point-of-identification for me. The Doctor dithers his way through the story with his usual amusing fashion but still seems out of place. The confrontation of the story isn't really about the Doctor and some maligned power; it's about Pelham and her own zealot-creation Paul Neville, his psychosis born from her novels.

The idea of Valdemar is darker than the actual entity itself, and it's certainly a pity this darkness wasn't sustained. As it stands, Tomb of Valdemar comes across as a limp experiment in story-telling; a risky one considering Messingham addresses the very criticisms he's accused of, through Pelham. Sadly, those critics are usually correct. [2/5]

This item appeared in TSV 60 (June 2000).

Index nodes: Tomb of Valdemar