Doctor Who: Royal Blood by Una McCormack
My Rating: 2.5/5 TARDISes
Series: Doctor Who: The Glamour Chronicles
Date Published: September 8th, 2015
Publisher: Broadway Books
Pages: 240 pages
Synopsis: An original adventure tying in to the ninth season of Doctor Who, the spectacular hit series from BBC Television, featuring the new 12th Doctor as played by Peter Capaldi.
“The Grail is a story, a myth! It didn’t exist on your world! It can’t exist here!”
The city-state of Varuz is failing. Duke Aurelian is the last of his line, his capital is crumbling, and the armies of his enemy, Duke Conrad, are poised beyond the mountains to invade. Aurelian is preparing to gamble everything on one last battle. So when a holy man, the Doctor, comes to Varuz from beyond the mountains, Aurelian asks for his blessing in the war.
But all is not what it seems in Varuz. The city-guard have lasers for swords, and the halls are lit by electric candlelight. Aurelian’s beloved wife, Guena, and his most trusted knight, Bernhardt, seem to be plotting to overthrow their Duke, and Clara finds herself drawn into their intrigue…
Will the Doctor stop Aurelian from going to war? Will Clara’s involvement in the plot against the Duke be discovered? Why is Conrad’s ambassador so nervous? And who are the ancient and weary knights who arrive in Varuz claiming to be on a quest for the Holy Grail…?
This is a spoiler-free review.
As I’m sure you know or can tell, I am a massive fan of Doctor Who, and I find the book series to be so fun, especially when waiting for new episodes. As soon as this particular novel was released, I was immediately intrigued by it. I love stories dealing with politics and conspiracy within a kingdom—particularly anything set in a medieval or medieval-esque time period. Unfortunately, I ended up feeling very disappointed by this novel. While it is a quick and light read, there are many, sometimes glaring, issues that are impossible to ignore.
In this novel, the Doctor and Clara find themselves in the land of Varuz where tensions are high, war is on the horizon, and secrets are profuse. Aurelian, the duke of Varuz is struggling to keep his city from falling apart completely. His enemy, Duke Conrad, is eager to capture the city for himself, and Aurelian is contemplating making Varuz’s last stand against the waiting army. After The Doctor’s path collides with Duke Aurelian’s men, he is mistaken for a holy man, and he and Clara are taken to the court of the duke. Aurelian is eager to receive The Doctor’s opinion on the decision, and the pair plan to leave as soon as he has given one. But The Doctor and Clara are soon enraptured by the fate of Varuz and the potential treason going on behind-the-scenes.
Even though I finished this novel a few months ago and have spent time thinking through it, I’m still finding the majority of the plot somewhat baffling. I’ll start off by saying that one of the biggest problems pertaining to the actual text itself is the massive amount of typos and grammatical errors. Frankly, I am stunned that they were so prevalent—you can find at least one spelling or sentence structure issue on every single page. It is as if no one bothered to proofread before publishing the book. This ended up being quite distracting, and made the lack of polish of story as a whole even more prominent.
After reading the synopsis of this book, I was very intrigued—it sounded like a story or episode of the show that I would have adored, and I wanted so badly to enjoy it. I love reading the novels about the Twelfth Doctor, especially ones containing Clara as I think she is a strong and intelligent protagonist. The interplay between the two is always enjoyable—they have so much chemistry and make a fantastic pair, balancing each other well. This is what I was hoping to find in this tale of their adventures, but I came out feeling very lukewarm about absolutely everything.
The plot just did not live up to it’s potential, and this could have been such a wonderful one in so many ways. It promised mystery and drama and suspense, but proved to be lacking all three. Too many facts are revealed too rapidly, and then it is essentially a slough to the end. Personally, I think it was a mistake to write this storyline in first-person in general, but even more so because of the character McCormack chose to be the main narrator. This choice ruins all of the enigmatic nature of the plot, the primary element on which it is heavily riding. We also spend a far too short amount of time focusing on The Doctor himself, a pitfall that the novels in this series sometimes run in to.
McCormack’s writing is sufficient, but definitely mediocre and much weaker than I was expecting. There are a number of aspects of the various settings in the novel that are depicted with a reasonable amount of detail, however, the world-building is quite wholly inconsistent. For me, there were times where I found it challenging to imagine what the city of Varuz, and the outside environment in general, looked like. This adds another challenge when trying to become immersed in the world.
I also found the character depiction in this story to be very hit or miss, particularly with the Doctor and Clara. Early on, McCormack does a decent job of replicating the personalities of the characters we already know and love. However, she soon slipped up, and they began to come across the wrong way. Their personalities are in constant instability—one moment things are matching up and then they suddenly talk or act in ways that are completely uncharacteristic of the characters from the show. The side characters in the narrative are, for the most part, very bland and one-dimensional. They are not built up well enough for the reader to feel any sort of connection to them.
While I generally judge these types of books on a bit of a different scale due to the simple and fun nature of them, this particular installment had a greater quantity of weaknesses than I typically find. With this all being said, it is still an interesting enough novel, and makes for a light, quick read. Despite its flaws, the imperfections do not make it so difficult that it is impossible to understand. And while this should not be entirely the job of the reader, one’s imagination and inner editor can easily fill in the gaps and make corrections when needed. As always though, the books from the Doctor Who literature series are always nice to have around when the show is in between seasons.