One of the things I both like and dislike about these books is the shift in voice and style from author to author. It makes the series more interesting and colourful, and kinda like those Skittles where they’re one colour on the outside and a completely different flavour on the in — you really don’t know what you’re going to get until you bite into it. The arrangement’s good because it changes things up and you get a variety of talents so one or two poor showings don’t bode ill for the entire range, but I don’t like it for much the same reason — not every book is guaranteed to be an enjoyable read.
The idea for this one is pretty interesting if just a tad improbable in the long-term; a planet as an organism with an ecosystem so sensitive to imbalance that it’s practically allergic to any foreign matter, triggering reactions in the biosphere and creating monster ‘antibodies’, making the human characters the unknowing catalysts for their own predicament. Unfortunately the execution doesn’t do the concept quite enough justice.
I can normally polish off two or three of these books a day, provided I don’t get bored. It took me four days to get through this one and I spent most of the time counting pages till the end. The writing is stiff and a little clunky, getting in the way of creating any real tension or concern for the characters, and while the dialogue is quite fair, the prose is at times awkward and inelegant. But since I can hear you saying: ‘it’s a YA quick-read tv-show tie-in, what kind of elegance are you looking for?’ I’m basing that statement on a comparison to the other books within its own series. And as an aside, as a couple of other reviewers for this book have noted, YA doesn’t have to mean ‘first-grade’, and ‘quick-read tie-in’ doesn’t automatically excuse a lower standard of quality than some less franchise-y fare.
I suppose the reason it sticks out as being particularly disappointing for me is mostly because I like the Ten/Rose dynamic the best out of the modern Doctor’s companions (with the possible exception of Donna), and was hoping their last book together would at least hold up against the others.
For the record, Baker’s characterisation of Rose and the Doctor was fairly recognisable, not as good as some of the others, but not totally off either. The characterisation and development of the original characters was also neatly consistent, if a little forced with some of the secondaries like Hespell and Baker, making them come off rather like two-dimensional set-pieces, which wouldn’t have seemed like a big deal if such a sizeable portion of the story wasn’t devoted to the explorers and the natives instead of the Doctor and Rose. The best of the bunch in my opinion was the professor — though some of her development was a little abrupt (her sudden shift when meeting Rez seemed a bit weird considering her personality up to that point), I thought she had the smoothest and most satisfying character arc.
All in all, I did finish the book, which for me generally translates to ‘it’s not terrible’ and as a light little expanded universe adventure it’s okay. At this point in my foray into the NSA series it’s probably my official low-point benchmark though, since I came very, very close to shelving it unfinished.