Friday, March 25, 2016

Warlock by: Andrew Cartmel: Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds

I opened my review of Cat’s Cradle: Warhead by asking you to imagine The Green Death mixed with the scale of Logopolis and you would have something close to what that novel was like.  Andrew Cartmel’s second novel, Warlock, has a similar scale but has the anti-drug messages of Nightmare of Eden and plot aspects Mindwarp, except it’s done subtly and in Cartmel’s usual bleak style of storytelling.  This time around Cartmel increases the levels of bleakness for the story and the length as he is much more passionate about his topic and vividly paints the picture of a future I can really get behind.  The plot sees Ace and her cat meet up with some hippies and investigate a research laboratory while Benny is sent off to America to get the Doctor a sample of the newest drug on the market, warlock.  Both plots end up intertwining and the reappearances of Justine and Vincent from Cat’s Cradle: Warhead who are now married and play an essential role in saving the day.  There is also detective Creed McIlveen who is trying to take out warlock as it poses a danger and a plot involving IDEA which rose out of the Butler Institute as the drug takes over people.   The plot is both one of the highlights of Warlock, yet is one of its downfalls as it is so long and has so many plot threads laced throughout the novel it becomes difficult to keep track of everything going on and who is allied with who and where everything is going.  Still the novel is able to keep me interested in the plot and Cartmel’s penchant for flowing prose.


Andrew Cartmel also uses this novel as his own version of Birthright as the Doctor doesn’t feature prominently in the novel, only appearing at the beginning to get the plot going and sending Ace and Benny off on their own little plot threads, and the end to defeat warlock and save the day.  This is a double-edged sword as on one hand he can be the master manipulator in the background moving the pieces along as was the case in Birthright or he could just not be important to the plot at all like Strange England.  Warlock actually gives us a mix of that as there are several points where he is working from behind the scenes, but there are also moments where he is nowhere to be found.  When he is in the forefront, the Doctor has the best moments of the novels.


Cartmel also gives us the best portrayal of the New Ace yet.  Yes he was better than Andy Lane and Jim Mortimore’s portrayals.  Here she is sympathetic to the cause of Shell and Jack as she despises animal experimentation.  Her shining moments are in the first chapter where she recounts her relationship with her cat Chick who is a character in his own right.  She and the Doctor helped a cat give birth and it led her to take affection to the cat which we haven’t seen in ages.  The first chapter alone gives us a great look into her mind and processes as she serves as the closest thing to a main character in this novel.  The way Cartmel portrays her makes me want to see this adapted into a Big Finish play, even if it would have to be toned down extremely for a more general audience.  Sadly this cannot be said about Benny, who is really bland here mainly because Cartmel doesn’t know what to do with her.  She goes to America for several chapters to get a sample of warlock for the Doctor which is pointless as Ace ends up getting one so that is pretty much pointless.


The novel also has a lot of interesting supporting characters.  Vincent and Justine reappear here halfway through the novel which is one of Cartmel’s best moves for the novel as he develops them both into mature adults.  Justine has a baby on the way and they are now married which makes the stakes higher when Justine is captured and tortured.  Luckily the baby will survive to see another day.  Ace in the novel meets up with Shell and Jack, a hippie couple who invade the research labs as animal rights activists.  Shell is the more interesting of the two as it is eventually revealed she was mugged and nearly raped when she was younger so she tattooed her body to make it her own and show control.  Her damaged psyche is fascinating and only get more so when she is on warlock as the drug makes her have visions.  Jack while being well developed is just less interesting as a character.  The least interesting side character is Creed McIlveen who is your stereotypical detective character even though he gets a good introduction.


The final points I’d like to make on this novel are the two aspects of genius that Cartmel inserted into the novel.  First is the titular warlock which is revealed to be an alien being that serves as a drug which allows for Cartmel to experiment with its affects.  It varies from person to person as the drug reads their mind and emotional state allowing it to become either heaven or hell for them.  It’s a brilliant idea and used for a lot of tense moments especially for Creed’s introduction as he is put under the influence with a group of people trying to discover who a cop is.  The thing is he is the cop and if he lets his emotions show it he is dead.  It is a terrifying sequence which I love.  The second of these aspects is the portions of the novel that are written in the perspective of animals, mainly Ace’s cat Chick.  It really makes you care for Chick and gives a unique perspective for when some of the human characters have their minds transferred into animals which I love.


To summarize, Warlock is the first Virgin New Adventure to really shine in its quality.  I love its plot and the writing style of Andrew Cartmel which is always fun to read.  It is full to the brim with good ideas and in many places it shines out its predecessor.  Sadly there are quite a few problems with its length and pacing along with a human villain who just isn’t very interesting to read about.  I recommend it as with these flaws it is just as good as Cat’s Cradle: Warhead.  80/100.

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