Sunday, April 3, 2016

Set Piece by: Kate Orman: An Ace in the Hole

Before I can get to analyzing Set Piece, I’m going to offer my opinions on Ace as this is the novel where she ends her travels with the Doctor at least until Volume 1 and 2 of The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield has her have one last hurrah with the Doctor.  Ace has always been my favorite of the Doctor Who companions from my first two Seventh Doctor stories (Remembrance of the Daleks and The Curse of Fenric), to the portrayal in the audios and even to the darker version introduced in the Virgin New Adventures novel Deceit.  I have had my criticisms with her character as some authors, mainly Christopher Bulis, Justin Richards, Simon Messingham and Daniel Blythe, didn’t have any real idea of how to use her in context of a novel.  They made her way too hardened in their novels while other authors like Paul Cornell, Andrew Cartmel and most recently Kate Orman knew that she was still essentially the same character just more experienced.  She has been the highlight of the period of rather lackluster novels beginning with Strange England and apparently ending with Warlock


 Set Piece was no exception to this rule as Kate Orman knows exactly how to make Ace likable and work as the main character of a novel.  Orman makes Ace not take anything from anyone especially a man as she is trapped in Ancient Egypt for most of the novel, but still makes her sympathetic.  It’s been the first time since Love and War that we’ve actually seen how much the Doctor’s meddling impact her.  Orman’s style of prose also helps Ace seem very natural and makes it very easy to hear Sophie Aldred in the role once again.  This is helped by the poignant afterward written by Aldred reflecting on the character of Ace as a whole.


Set Piece involves  the TARDIS team being split through time as a race of sentient robots called the Ants are trying to take over the universe and find time travel.  Ace was sent to Ancient Egypt, Benny sent to Cairo, Egypt in the eighteenth century and the Doctor to the Siege of Paris in 1871 where Kadiatu Lethebridge-Stewart has been stuck after time travel experiments performed sometime after Transit.  The plot is a very interesting one as it plays out like a game of chess, perfect for the New Adventures which I really quite liked.  The only problems come up with Kadiatu who is constantly switching sides which becomes very confusing to see where it’s going to end up after many flip flops.  Kadiatu is still an interesting character continuing her development from Transit which really works here.


Benny also gets some significant development even if she is put on the backburner so we can completely focus on Ace.  She gets a great moment at the end of the novel when Ace decides to stay behind and she tries to get her to stop.  She also spends some great time with Vivant Denon who is a character who has his best moments in the epilogue.  The Doctor is also great here even though he is absent for most of the novel with Orman going for a Birthright style story with the Doctor working from the background.  This comes with a warning, however, as the first thirty pages of the novel take the form of a brutal torture scene ending with the near regeneration of the Seventh Doctor.  He feels the regeneration coming and is afraid for if his companions will be able to cope with his new incarnation.  Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor hadn’t been revealed at the time of writing this novel, but the staff knew Eight would be a reaction to the manipulative nature of Seven which Orman works well with.  This is also a novel that actually has the TARDIS team sharing in comradery and they feel a lot more like they’re friends with each other.  They’re almost on an equal plane with their reunion resulting in a friendly pillow fight between each other.


To summarize, Set Piece is without a doubt one of the best New Adventures that we’ve had in ages.  It has a few problems but is an improvement on Orman’s first effort which was already great as a novel.  95/100

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