Years after the fall of Blake and the 7, the Federation itself collapsed. Political wars erupted and a new ruling body, the Quartet, rose to power. Humanity stumbled, but humanity survived and relative peace broke out.
Not that it lasted.
As the Quartet began to struggle for dominance within themselves, and Servalan was courted for her influence, the staff of The Base, humanity’s largest battle station found themselves face to face with a legend. Kerr Avon, long presumed dead, had returned…
So, good news first, there’s a lot of really fun stuff here. Darrow has a flair for the elaborate, menacing politics of the Blakes’ 7 universe and some of the most fun stuff here deals with just that. The Quartet, the command staff of The Base and the forces that oppose them are center stage for at least much time as Avon himself and their quiet, brutal little wars are often hugely entertaining. There’s something of Dangerous Liaisons to how they use one another and the way the conflicts play out, especially when Servalan returns, gives the book a lot of its momentum.
Then there’s the structure. Avon is discovered on an ‘island world’, a vast splinter of planet that was torn off its home world. Unable to leave, he’s made what life he could for himself there with other survivors. Darrow hits the ground running and shows us Avon’s new life before flashing back to show us how he got there. It’s smartly handled stuff that picks up from seconds after the end of the final episode of the show and takes in some nice continuity nods that feel organic rather than forced. It also neatly explains how Avon could be out of play for a couple of decades and feeds back into his cold determination to make his mark once again. Plus, the central macguffin of the plot is especially nicely handled and it’s genuinely nice to see Avon and the former ‘colleague’ of his reunited. If you liked Avon and his cold, sarcastic, brutal response to the universe, then there’s a lot to enjoy here.
The bad news is that’s very nearly all there is.
Every single character here has the same cold, distanced, arch world view. They’re all over-articulate space Machiavellis with no morals, no compunction in screwing one another over, and a tremendous fondness for elaborate wordplay and grandstanding. It gets old, and you find yourself gravitating towards the few characters who slightly deviate from this path for variety as much as sympathy. The situation really isn’t helped by Darrow’s delivery either. Make no mistake, he’s an excellent reader and each one of Avon’s lines is spat with the elaborate, cultured venom that you know and love from the TV show.
The problem is, so are everyone else’s. Darrow has almost no variation between characters and the end result is a future populated entirely by people who all sound like velvet-throated, whisky drinking cynical panthers. There’s no line that isn’t arch, no eyebrow that isn’t raised, no opportunity for verbosity left ungrabbed by the lapels and shaken till every golden coin in its miserable pockets comes loose. It is, in every way describable, one note and if you don’t like that note you’re going to have some real difficulties getting through it.
You may also hit trouble with the very 1970s view of space the book puts forward. Aside from some remarkably basic place names (The Base, The Hub), there’s also the fact everyone’s toting shotguns and throwing knives, not to mention the primary mode of transport being heli-planes. It has to be said though, Darrow does have some fun with that last one and a nice running gag about whether it’s a spaceship or an aeroplane. There’s also a colossal, world changing reveal around the two-thirds mark that should shake up everything but, instead, is greeted with the same cold-eyed disdain the characters greet everything else with. Which is a shame as it’s a doozy of an idea that’s rolled out and then sort of shuffles off to maybe reappear in later books.
Verdict: This is uneven, at times basic, at times wildly verbose stuff. The narration, and characters, are all one note and the middle in particular threatens to tip over into self-indulgence at best and more than slightly troubling stereotypes at worst. However, if you can deal with all that, there’s an enjoyable story here. Darrow clearly loves the character and the world and his enthusiasm is detectable even beneath the steely, space panther vocals. Hard work, certainly, but if you’re a fan you may well find it worthwhile. 6/10