Bernice Summerfield and the Doomsday Manuscript feels like the archetypal template for a new series of Bernice Summerfield adventures, it lays down a new innovative, yet deeply traditional format and sticks to its guns through and through. And that format is, without a doubt, heavily Indiana Jones inspired.
Comparisons between Bernice and her male, Hollywood worthy counterpart from the 20th century have been made before but never so obviously. From the word go this ingenious, yet strangely active, archaeology professor is embroiled in a quest to uncover an ancient tomb, an exhilarating adventure of daring do, whilst pursued by those no good villainous space Nazis.
Although Straklant makes a good villain by the end of the novel he is the only member of the Fifth Axis to be fleshed out significantly, if at all. Oppressive regimes require more than one face to be taken seriously. The entire concept of the Fifth Axis seems slightly ‘too obvious’, so taking the comparison at face value it’s probably a good thing the novel focuses far more of the lives of individuals under the regime than the occupiers themselves.
I have a slight problem through the first half of the novel, where Bernice remains completely unaware of her companion’s true nature. As the audience is shown almost immediately how villainous Straklant can be, it makes Bernice seem a little stupid in comparison. At first this is fine but it drags on for three quarters of the book.
Fortunately once the action settles on one planet, trapped under Axis occupation, the pace slows down considerably and the book finds its feet. There is an excellent description of the occupation, with some genuinely moving tragedies to work through before the finale, which despite being terrifically clever, does feel something of an anticlimax.
As a new, exciting type of adventure the Doomsday Diaries succeeds admirably. It showcases Bernice and her role in the collection, giving us a suitably menacing villain and a clever hook in the form of Jason’s mysterious photograph. The majority of the novel does feel light and frothy though, the literary equivalent of Indiana Jones big screen adventures with simple evil space Nazis who do horrific things seemingly just to make the audience hiss at them. Fortunately the last third of the book is truly excellent, giving it the depth and real world grounding it needs to work.
7 / 10