Thursday, 18 February 2010

Bernice Summerfield: The Squire's Crystal

Having accused ‘The Gods of the Underworld’ of having very few highly original ideas, and just mashing together well known themes of Science Fiction to create something new, I ought to balk at sight of a ‘woman becomes man’ story.

Jac Raynor, already familiar with Bernice from her sterling work adapting the first series of audiobooks, cracks her whip at something original and fun. More than either of the other authors she delves inside the professor’s head, giving us deep insight into exactly what Bernice is thinking. She also gives her insight into what it is to be a man, deliberately shying away from crass cold biological descriptions and thrusting important and meaningful words such as ‘thingy’ in the readers face.

Most importantly though she doesn’t loose her sense of humour. And that is crucial. The story and its consequences are played straight, with danger and terrible events at every stage, but fortunately for the narrator everything is told slightly tongue in cheek. And walking that awkward line is where this book succeeds most.

It’s a much slighter book than its predecessors, with far looser plot twists. Perhaps that’s a good thing as the joke probably starts to wear thin after a while, although personally I do think there is room for more. As the hitherto nondescript Adrian Wall suddenly becomes a central character we are given only a brief glimpse of his seduction. References to what scandalous things Bernice has been getting up to on the Collection whilst off camera are made but given the dire consequences of what happens here will be later (bad reviewer, should be approaching this with a fresh mind) I almost wish we’d seen more than we do. Especially at the end, where the immeasurable fall out for Adrian as he has to come to terms with loosing the love of his life are made off screen…

Fortunately the novels main new attraction, Dominic Troy, is full of surprises and a surprise link back to the Fifth Axis of the Doomsday Manuscript. This kind of interlinking between novels is certainly a welcome development, and shows just how successful the elements seeded earlier in the series are turning out to be. That different authors are having the confidence to play with each other’s creations can only be a good thing.

The Squire’s Crystal is a brief, very welcome indulgence and despite the cliché ending (how can I prove she is not who she says she is) and the cliché start (Bernice gets an invitation off Collection to meet interesting discovery from client who turns out to have hidden agenda) and clichéd middle (woman becomes man, hilarious transgender confusion antics ensue) it’s a strong story with, most importantly, believable characters.

Aside from Brax who as always has all the answers. When’s something interesting going to happen with him?

7 / 10

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