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By Christopher Bulis

Book review by Chris Girdler

Shadowmind is a frustrating novel. Like so many New Adventures it has some wonderful ideas but the way these are expressed leaves Christopher Bulis's first contribution under the daunting shadow of recent triumphs Lucifer Rising and White Darkness.

To be honest I hadn't expected to like Shadowmind at all. The back cover blurb was enough to put me to sleep, and for a 'designer, artist and illustrator', the author's cover painting is a rather patchy effort. Two strangely-proportioned squat figures (Bernice and Santony?) watch the events on Arden but the background scene fails to convince, with its clumsy perspective.

Why Bulis even bothered to include Bernice on the cover is beyond me, as she is rather neglected in the novel, especially at the start and it is a motherly 'the Doctor knows best' attitude that comes out the strongest in her character with her cynical comments and practical skills being less useful.

In trying to make the Doctor intense and mysterious, he comes across as just plain boring. I'm not expecting juggling sessions or spoons recitals, just a bit of that eccentric unpredictable manner to balance out the Doctor's character. This is something that Gareth Robefts and Paul Cornell do very well.

The regular character that Bulis accurately represents is Ace. It is obvious that he is a big fan of this companion. This is the 'new' Ace at her best; I loved the idea of the neo-nitro sweets (I understand that gastric juices dissolve the sweet if swallowed, but what if it is sucked for too long?)

Ace's tough attitude is still intact but because it's her birthday, we see more of that emotional peaceful side of her that Lucifer Rising avoided. There's a strong sense of alien penetration on Tairngaire which adds to the uneasy atmosphere. Bulis uses the novel medium to his advantage, with locations and action sequences that would have been impossible to achieve on the small screen.

The first 50 pages or so are great. From Chapter 8 however, the book is bogged down with overblown explanations and descriptions. Ace is the only character who gets to do anything interesting or adventurous. Shadowmind is at its worst during the Broadsword journey: irrelevant conversations and boring space battles.

Things pick up as soon as the crew touchdown on Arden, especially the scenes featuring the Shenn. The Shenn are perhaps more interesting than most of the human colonists. I found their location and background interesting and the discussions between the Shenn and Ace very well-written.

There are some great moments in Shadowmind; Ace and Kim using duplicate bodies, the 'death' of Ostman, the final climatic banishment of Umbra - and I haven't even mentioned Ace wearing nothing but a Dalek helmet in a sculpture park!

There are however some problems with overall style (run-of-the-mill dialogue and lack of characterisation) which does little to increase the pace, and a rather clichéd structure (journey through various elaborate locations towards a great powerful menace), which has been used once too often in this series.

Quite a good first effort, but there are better things out there.

Book review by David Lawrence

In the first few pages Shadowmind greets the reader with a feast of Shakespearean references, mostly from A Midsummer Night's Dream. This deceived me into believing I was going to enjoy the book.

Shadowmind is dull and average. It's Ace's birthday; an important event, except we aren't told when her birth date is, or how old she is. Also at the end of White Darkness Ace is suffering guilt and torment over her current violent behaviour, suggesting that in books to come, she's going to try and deal with her personal problems - However there's no mention of it in Shadowmind. I decided it couldn't be Christopher Bulis's fault as he probably hadn't read the book before his. But what's this a few pages later? The TARDIS crew referring to the previous adventure, so maybe it is Bulis's fault? Some character continuity would be nice!

There are some nice moments (particularly a witty spelling mistake in which Ace wishes she'd worn her combat suite - wouldn't a combat suit be a little less heavy and conspicuous?), but on the whole it's a disappointing book which really needed a rethink and a rewrite to lift it out of the slums down with Genesys, Transit and Witch Mark. I try to read books I dislike more than once to raise my opinion, but the second time round I couldn't get past Chapter 5 I was so bored. Sorry Mr Bulis, but I think you should stick to being an artist!

This item appeared in TSV 37 (January 1994).

Index nodes: Shadowmind