In deciding to look back on some previous novels that I have already reviewed, I took a moment to reread some of my older reviews to see which ones I may not have been entirely happy with. The Empire of Glass was one of those reviews which upon giving it a look, a reread went right to the top of my list. The novel is Andy Lane’s fourth for Virgin Books and at the time what I believed to be his weakest, giving it a lower score than it deserved for rather weak reasons. At the time I hadn’t experienced the TARDIS team of the First Doctor, Steven, and Vicki, and as such was really unable to analyze just what made Lane’s work great. The Empire of Glass is a pseudo-historical concerning Irving Braxiatel inviting the Doctor to mediate a peace conference against several different alien races in a floating city above Venice in 1609. Andy Lane writes this with about the same grasp on history as stories such as The Gunfighters, as historical figures such as Galileo Galilei, Christopher Marlowe, and William Shakespeare all appear in Venice at this point, even though Marlowe is supposed to be dead at this point, Shakespeare is supposed to be London and not finishing Macbeth (which was written years earlier). Also of course, there wasn’t a giant floating city that appeared above Venice at the time. This isn’t a criticism by any means, the absurdity of the novel helps set the tone for proceedings and just contributes to the fun nature of Lane’s work.
Much of the first half of the novel involves Braxiatel’s efforts to get the Doctor to the conference: he’s working with aliens who grab a random Cardinal of the Catholic Church come to Venice to try Galileo and just so happens to look like the Doctor. The Cardinal rationalizes his abduction as being abducted by angels who take him to heaven, Lane making use of Biblical descriptions of angels to great effect. The Doctor doesn’t realize Braxiatel is looking for him, as before this novel he took his place in The Three Doctors and had his memories of events erased by the Time Lords. This allows for a comedy of errors while the Doctor and Vicki make friends with Galileo in the disguise of Cardinal Bellarmine while Steven is repeatedly accused of murder, and then is stabbed. Also he gets drunk with Galileo which simply is a treat for readers, as it makes the character stumble over several words and phrases throughout which only adds to the absurd nature of the book. That isn’t to say all of the first half of this book is absurdism, quite the contrary. Lane devotes large portions of the book to delving into the relationship between the Doctor and Vicki. Vicki describes the feelings she gets from the Doctor like the feelings she had for Sandy the Sand Beast in The Rescue. She feels that he does love her, but as one would love a pet: an interest but could easily survive without them. The Doctor also has to combat this idea and admit that Vicki was invited because she reminded the Doctor of Susan Foreman.
The second half of the novel gets ever so slightly convoluted with the introduction of Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare. Marlowe, who is supposed to be dead (which is lampshaded), is set up as almost a spy for the British Empire while Shakespeare has come to Venice to investigate and find inspiration for future works. He also ends up gaining knowledge of the future and taking it back to England, which leads to an infiltration of the staging of Macbeth. The climax of the book is genuinely hilarious with Shakespeare in the role of Lady Macbeth performing the sleepwalking scene with interruptions from the Doctor and Vicki. Of course, as Vicki is from the future and doesn’t know the play and the First Doctor has a tendency to fluff, hilarity ensues. This is also a novel where the cool, calm, calculating, and conniving exterior of Irving Braxiatel breaks as the genuinely good scheme is ruined by those who work with him. While he hadn’t been cast in the role at this point, Miles Richardson’s portrayal of Braxiatel fits perfectly here and if you’ve listened to anything with the character there’s a chance you’ll put his delivery into this book. The epilogue with Braxiatel also adds some nice little connections to other books, showing that like Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor, this Time Lord has had his hand in several other stories. Christopher Marlowe is also an interesting character here, as he immediately stands out to the reader and you can’t help be charmed. It makes his eventual fate incredibly impactful as one of the really serious moments in the story. Overall, The Empire of Glass is a novel which sparkles and could easily fit within the era with the types of historicals being done at the time. 9/10.