Doctor Who Review: The Witch’s Familiar

doctor who the witch's familiar review steven moffat hettie macdonald davros peter capaldi twelfth doctor michelle gomez jenna coleman

I didn’t come because I was ashamed. I came because you were sick and you asked. 

To be entirely fair, I don’t think anyone really expected the episode to open the way it did. We’d all believed that we’d see a linear progression from the cliffhanger on to the start of the next episode – I even spent some time proselytising about the morality of it all, and whether or not you really should steal Davros’ favourite teddy.

It was a classic piece of misdirection though, which we really should expect by now, and it allowed Moffat to present us with something that was a little bit different. Rather than a parable about changing time (I was entirely expecting them to just do away with the Daleks completely, to be honest) of the sort we’ve seen before, we saw something that has been rather unique thus far.

A proper conversation between Davros and the Doctor.

That was, I’ve read, the starting point for the episode, when Moffat was working on the idea; we’ve had so many stories with the Doctor and Davros, and their interactions are always stellar, but often so fleeting as well. Here, then, was a chance for us to really examine the relationship between the pair of them, getting to the heart of it, and showing us something we’ve never seen before.

Julian Bleach and Peter Capaldi sell it, of course. It’s their performance that captures the essence of the thing, and provides the true highlights of the episode. This is likely to be remembered as the best interaction between the Doctor and Davros ever, and will no doubt inform all future ones as well.

It’s some genuinely compelling writing in those scenes – I’d be prepared to say this is Moffat’s best rendering of a returning villain, but Missy was in this episode too – which gives us a fresh outlook on things, whilst still remaining faithful to what’s gone before. Take, for example, the conversation about Gallifrey; Davros congratulates the Doctor, says that he’s happy for him, and you can believe it, because that’s based on everything we already know about Davros. It builds upon his own jingoism and passion for Skaro, and examines it in a different light.

doctor who the witch's familiar review davros cries eyes julian bleach skaro twelfth doctor peter capaldi hettie macdonald steven moffat

Another thing that stood out to me were the moments where Davros was almost like a friend of the Doctor’s; sharing a joke with him, watching a sunset together, and speaking of the admiration he felt for the Doctor. It forms a wonderful set of parallels with Missy, another staple of the programme, who’s both an enemy and a friend to the Doctor.

The difference, of course, was that it was ultimately just a lie – where Missy genuinely does consider the Doctor a friend, albeit it in a complicated fashion, Davros is simply manipulating the Doctor, taking advantage of his compassion. It’s a testament to the strength of both the writing and the acting that Davros’ about turn really did feel like a betrayal; I’d totally bought into the idea that they were going to kill off Davros, because this felt like the absolute right way to handle it. When he did then start to laugh maniacally… well, everything changed.

Something that worked quite well about the Davros and the Doctor scenes were how perverse they were, in a way. A lot of the imagery relied upon twisting what we already knew so well, and presenting it in a very different, much more disturbing light. Davros laughing, for one thing, as well as Davros’ real eyes – there’s a strange, almost uncanny valley effect to it, which really heightens the tension to the scene. Davros quoting the Doctor’s own question – “Am I a good man?” – only added to this, really heightening the intrigue, and investing us in the interaction between the pair.

On the topic of the imagery, and disturbing ideas, it’s worth discussing the Dalek sewers. That was a fantastically macabre concept (that set up a similarly fantastic pun!) which was used quite effectively I think. It’s another aspect to the horror of the Daleks; the screaming sound remains chilling, and the concept of Daleks living on, even after “death”, is one that has a lot of potential, and I really hope it gets mined further.

Director Hettie MacDonald did a wonderful job of bringing it all to life. I must admit, I am typically not inclined to comment on direction, because I don’t really know a huge amount about it, and usually can’t distinguish between any particular flourishes or mistakes, but it must be said, this episode was quite well done. The Dalek city is very stylish, the sewers are atmospheric, and the whole episode is wonderfully evocative. So, great job there.

doctor who the witch's familiar review twelfth doctor young davros peter capaldi julian bleach steven moffat hettie macdonald steven moffat

Admittedly, though, the episode was not perfect. I think it’s probably fair to say that, as with last week, the plot was not necessarily the most substantial. Obviously, the sheer quality of the Davros/Doctor scenes more than makes up for a lot of this, but the episode does feel a little empty, in some ways.

Similarly, the subplot with Clara and Missy was lacking too. Lots to appreciate; both Michelle Gomez and Jenna Coleman are exceptionally skilled actresses playing well written characters delivering witty dialogue, and seeing the two play off of one another works very well, but… Clara was disappointingly easily manipulated. She fell for the same tricks just a few too many times, and I feel like she should have been a little more guarded around Missy – particularly given what happened with Danny.

Something that was interesting that came up: all this talk of hybrids and confession dials and why the Doctor left Gallifrey. It looks (though I’m not certain) like they’re trying to set up something of a series arc here. I’m not entirely certain how I feel about that, really – the reason why the Doctor left Gallifrey is something that I’m always cautious about them getting too close to. It’s one of those pieces of the mythos that should really always remain largely open to interpretation; add in bits and bobs, develop certain aspects, but shy away from any explicitly writing big prophecies into the canon. That’s the sort of divisive element that should really remain in headcanon.

But, talking about the character of the Doctor, this lets me swing back round to the start of the episode – and to the end of the episode – to comment on something I really enjoyed: the character of the Doctor put forward.

I loved that line, “I’m here because you’re sick and you asked.” I loved how Capaldi delivered it, and spoke of how ‘the Doctor’ is, essentially, an ideal he aspired towards. The Doctor is someone who’s just passing through, trying his best to help people.

He doesn’t kill Davros, because why would he? If presented with the opportunity to kill Davros, the answer is in fact to try and teach him something better. To help him. To let compassion win out.

And that was brilliant. So, no, the episode wasn’t quite perfect. I didn’t quite enjoy it as much as last week (which I was perhaps a bit kind to), but it’s still a very, very good episode. 9/10

Related:

Doctor Who series 9 reviews

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Fantastic Four Movie Pitch

fantastic four return 4 marvel cinematic universe movie pitch peggy carter 1970s dr doom peyton reed banner john krasinski

Okay, so. I’m writing the introduction to this before I’ve actually gotten around to seeing the new Fantastic Four movie yet, but it seems like it is in fact really, really bad. And that’s a shame, actually, because I’ve been defending it for months, on the basis that no-one had actually seen it yet. But people have now seen it, and it’s hard to argue with 9% on Rotten Tomatoes. I’ll go and watch it soon, and add in my thoughts to the post then.

(Oh. I actually really, really enjoyed it. With a few reservations and all, but generally, I thought it was a lot better than it’s reputation suggests – not perfect by any means, but far from the abysmal movie people are suggesting. I actually wouldn’t reboot it, if given the option, but I’ve committed to this now.)

Anyway, I figured that it might be a good idea to do for Fantastic Four what I did for Spider-Man – a pitch for a reboot. We’ll assume, for a moment, that it’s going to end up in the MCU continuity, simply because that sort of mental gymnastics is a little more fun, but it could be easily done as a standalone.

On the Setting

Probably not something you’d expect to be immediately most important, but I figured it’d be worth putting this one first, because it has a fairly significant impact on the rest of the movie.

This particular Fantastic Four movie is going to be set in the middle of the Cold War. The lines are going to blur a little, since we’re obviously departing from established history a little (what with the Superheroes and all), but we’re looking at a slightly fictionalised 60s/70s, where we’ve still got that period of detente, but things are a little more tense than they were in reality – one particular Eastern European nation, by the name of Latveria, is stirring up trouble…

(The benefit of going back to the 70s is twofold; it provides a distinct visual style, which sets this film apart from others of its ilk, and it’s also going to help me with Dr. Doom, as you’ll see in a minute…)

On the Origins

Here, admittedly, I’m running into trouble. I’m caught between a couple of things – on the one hand, I want to skip the origins. An opening credits that’s a sort of mash up between that of Spider-Man 2 and The Incredible Hulk, where we see news articles and secret files on both the Fantastic Four and Latveria’s place in the Cold War, seems essentially perfect. Everyone knows the origin story, and they don’t particularly seem to like new angles on it, so it might well be best to just sort of get it over and done with. As much as I’d like to open the movie with scenes of Reed and Ben, or explore immediate reactions to their accident, it’s been done recently, and to fairly poor reaction.

So, actually, yeah, we’re going to go with the title credits. We’ll see the four astronaut/scientists doing their bit in the Space Race, getting hit by cosmic rays, and Latveria making a nuisance of itself all relayed through a series of clever news broadcasts and clippings and etc. The movie can continue on after that with a quick action sequence – Johnny Storm taking out a nuclear missile or something – before we come up with our inciting incident.

Now… slight departure from the comics, here, but stay with me on this. I’m going to attach the Fantastic Four to a government agency, and essentially make them spy type people. If it’s the MCU, it’d be SHIELD, with a cameo from Peggy Carter; if it’s still Fox, then just some generic agency.

On the Plot

What, exactly, does SHIELD want with the Fantastic Four on this occasion? Well, they’ve been hearing rumours and rumblings about the dictator of Latveria, one Dr Victor von Domashev, having unlocked a secret power. The suggestion is that this is some form of magic – Reed is skeptical, but the others shoot this down with relative ease. (”Magic isn’t real, that’s impossible.” “Well, so are we.” “Point taken.”) Again, if it’s the MCU, you can tie in Peggy’s concerns with Red Skull and the Tesseract and the like, but that’s not essential.

The bulk of the movie, then, is a bit of an espionage thriller with the Fantastic Four. You’d spend a lot of time in Latveria, meeting the oppressed populace, getting to know what things are like. Eventually, there would be a confrontation with Doom at the end of the movie. The Fantastic Four can stop his specific plan on that particular day, but due to the complexities of diplomatic immmunity, and the fact that he’s leader of an entire country, means they can’t exactly depose him entirely.

Leaving us with one very angry dictator, bearing a grudge against the Fantastic Four, who’s entirely ready to come back and fight again another day…

On the Characters

Reed Richards: We’ve already established that Reed is going to be openly skeptical of magic (which will provide us with a nice running gag), but I’m actually going to take that a step further and say that part of the reason he’s here is because he wants to believe in magic, because he wants to try and use it to help cure his friends. He’s exhausted all the possibilities open to him with conventional science as he knows it, but he’s determined to do something for his friends, so this is what he’s looking into now. That’s what motivating him throughout: pursuit of a cure.

Ben Grimm: So, something that presents itself to me as being an interesting possibility to explore is the fact that Ben is Jewish. (He also turns into what is essentially a literal Golem, but I don’t know a huge amount about Golems, so I’ll avoid any sweeping statements there.) Anyway, so. Let’s say, then, that either his parents or an uncle and aunt were killed in the Holocaust; Grimm has got a fairly personal reason to want to stop dangerous dictators in their tracks. This is a fairly basic starting point, admittedly, and you’d have to be sure to keep this subtle rather than heavy handed, but it does appear to fit in with the film, and it provides a little more diversity to the movie, which is always nice.

Sue Storm: I think with Sue… okay, right. Here’s the basic arc I’ve got in mind: This is all taking place in the first year of their accident, we’ll say, so even though they’ve got their powers and etc, they aren’t necessarily settled as a group. Sue in particular in going to have reservations – she’ll go to Latveria and do this because Peggy asked, but it’s not exactly something she’d have chosen to do. Her experience in Latveria is going to change her mind, basically – when she interacts with the people, she sees the good they’re able to do, and realises that their little group is in fact a positive thing. She of all them becomes determined to stop Doom, because of the friends she makes amongst the Latverian people.

Johnny Storm: This probably wouldn’t necessarily be something he’s comfortable with, would it? He’s not really the type who’d be into skulking about in secrecy, and would probably prefer to take on Doom directly. For Johnny, there’s going to be tensions between his brash nature, and he necessities of the mission that they’re on. You’d maybe have an action set piece at some point in the middle wherein Johnny gets frustrated, tries to save someone rather than keeping a low profile, and almost brings the whole thing crashing down around them.

One thing that is important to emphasise (and you’ll do it by contrasting them against the other characters you see in the movie) is that these four people are very much a family. That’s their angle, the thing that should set them apart from other superheroes.

On Doctor Doom & Latveria

Okay, so, here’s the thing. I can’t take the name “Doctor Doom” seriously. Yes, as an alias, sure. But not as an actual literal name. Sorry.

So, what we’re going with is Doctor Victor von Domashev, nicknamed “Doctor Doom” by the oppressed populace of Latveria, who we’d learn a fair amount about. That’s actually how I’m planning on conveying the level of threat from Doom – we’re going to withhold showing him particularly, apart from occasional glimpses, and really build him up through the stories told by the people of Latveria. It might be nice to build a deliberate contrast between his public face (the learned man, the Doctor) and the impact of the harsh dictator that we actually see.

As the Four journey through Latveria (I guess looking for someone in particular? Some of the specifics aren’t quite there yet) they’re going to be spending time in houses and village communes and so on, and we’ll meet some Latverian families fairly intimately. Maybe at one point, Ben and Johnny can get swept up in the resistance movement, leading Reed and Sue to have to try and find them. Essentially, they’re going to be doing something not dissimilar to Martha Jones in Last of the Time Lords. Maybe you can steal the sea shanty bit from Turn Left with the Cossolantos, too – we can get to really know and like these people, before brutally murdering them! (Apologies if you don’t understand the Doctor Who references. Look them up!)

On the powers

The magic of Doom is, admittedly, something I’m not entirely certain of how to manage. I’d lean towards leaving it unexplained – make it a deliberate mystery, and that can provide a bit of tension throughout.

With the rest of the Four you can leave it as is, really, albeit perhaps with a few changes. It might, for example, provide a nice set of scenes if Sue is able to make people/things invisible too through contact with her – that doesn’t feel like too much of stretch, given that her clothes usually turn invisible too – and I’d like it if Reed’s powers were made a little weirder and more nonspecific. He’s not just stretchy, he’s malleable. So he can do things like becoming a parachute (a la The Incredibles), or he can get out of a cell by flattening himself and sliding under the door, or he can stretch his features to morph his face a little.

Also! I happened to read an old ‘leaked plot outline’ from the recent Fantastic Four movie recently- the outline was incorrect, but it did have an interesting idea about Johnny Storm’s heat powers. He’d change colour to signify how hot he was. I actually think that’s a pretty cool idea – he wouldn’t be green or anything like that, but rather than just one shade of orange, you’d have him changing between red hot, or blue-y flame, or white hot, and so on and so forth. I think you could potentially build something quite interesting out of that.

On the Franchise

So, then. Where does this particular movie aim to go? Trilogies seem to be the thing people aim for, don’t they?

I’m not sure where I’d take the movie after this. Obviously, I’m leaving deliberate threads dangling to return to with Doom, given that they can’t depose him (yet?) and he’ll inevitably bear a grudge against the Four (and particularly Richaaaaards!).

Part of me feels like Galactus and suchlike don’t quite fit the tone of this, if we’re going for 70s set in the MCU. It’s the sort of thing that you’d expect o have had a big impact on the state of the world, but obviously didn’t, given that we’ve seen the pre-existing current day set movies that obviously haven’t been through a visit from Galactus. Something that could be interesting, though, is if by Phase 5 or whatever, Marvel is more confident with skipping back and forth through their timeline, you’d have the Silver Surfer confront the Four, which is set up for a subsequent Avengers movie featuring Galactus? That has legs as an idea, I think.

If they do get to a third movie (which would feature the return of Doom), though, I think the important thing is for Reed to be able to cure his friends, as a culmination of their arc. Or, at the very least, to give Ben the ability to turn his power on and off. (”Rock on!”) That’s rather important to me – gaining those powers is such a massive upheaval to their lives, and Reed wouldn’t ever give up searching for a cure, even if the others had accepted their powers.

You know, I think this is a rather strong basis for a film franchise. Any thoughts?

Note from 2018: This was written from a probably fairly shallow understanding of the characters, and I don’t know exactly how much I agree with all this now anyway.

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Doctor Who Review: The Magician’s Apprentice

doctor who the magician's apprentice review steven moffat hettie macdonald daleks davros peter capaldi jenna coleman

If someone who knew the future pointed out a child to you and told you that that child would grow up totally evil, to be a ruthless dictator who would destroy millions of lives, could you then kill that child?

Doctor Who is back! And it’s back with a blast.

I’ve really missed the show, I realised. That wasn’t something I’d been aware of, exactly, in the run up – obviously I was keeping on top of the news about the episodes, watching all the trailers, and blogging about it all… so I suppose that’s why, actually. I didn’t miss the presence of the show because I didn’t feel like it had ever gone away – I’m on the message boards, I entered the Mission Dalek competition (didn’t win, sadly) and I am essentially a massive nerd, I realise, as I type this sentence. Hmm. (But, you know, I am reviewing Doctor Who, so I guess that can be taken as read.)

But, yes. There’s nothing quite like new Doctor Who, is there? And that’s the experience that I missed. That of watching brand new Doctor Who.

Steven Moffat has, I think, explicitly tailored this episode towards capturing that feeling – the sheer excitement of watching new Doctor Who. That’s what The Magician’s Apprentice is all about – it’s buzzing with energy, and there’s a real vibrancy and bombast to all the spectacle involved.

The episode begins with pure, unadulterated, unashamed and unabashed continuity references, which is the sort of thing I love. First, we’re on Skaro, then the Maldovarium; next it’s the Shadow Proclamation, and finally Karn itself, complete with cameos from Ood, Judoon, Sycorax and Hath. Gotta admit, I wonder how that went down with more casual fans – I’d assume that it’d be fine, because they simply see cool looking aliens, but perhaps it was a little… alienating. (Haha, pun!)

We go from there to Missy and Clara, and there’s yet more spectacle on display – not just in terms of the frozen planes (an excellent hook, which was a great way of establishing both Clara and Missy in their element) but also the spectacular acting on display. (Another pun!) It carries forth throughout, really – both Jenna Coleman and Michelle Gomez are excellent in this episode, and it’s brilliant to see the pair of them together, with Missy essentially in the role of the Doctor. Lots of excellent dialogue there; very fond of the references to the Doctor’s friendship with the Master. Like I said in my review of Death in Heaven, way back when, I really do like the Doctor and the Master being depicted as friends – albeit ones with a rather complicated relationship!

doctor who the magician's apprentice review jenna coleman clara oswald michelle gomez missy spain peter capaldi steven moffat

But, in all fairness, the moment of the most impressive spectacle is the entrance of the Doctor. Steven Moffat gave a bit of a talk about it, in this YouTube video here, and you can see that a lot of thought went into the execution of it – it wasn’t just (great) puns! The overall effect, mind, was that the Doctor was acting out of character and over the top because he was ashamed. Self loathing. Off kilter. This is actually subtly different from how death was invoked during the Matt Smith years – the point is not “the Doctor has to face his death”, but rather “the Doctor owes it to Davros to meet him, even though it will likely cause his death, because he is ashamed of what he has done”. Peter Capaldi absolutely sells this, of course, in the same way he does with everything – he’s a fantastic actor, and a really magnificent screen presence. Entering into the second year, I have to say, I’m really hoping he sticks around for a good long while yet.

And of course, there’s no reason why he wouldn’t want to, is there? This must be his childhood dream, because he’s really ticking off all the big icons! Daleks, Cybermen, the Master… and now Davros. That’s the crux of the episode, really. The re-appearance of Davros. Julian Bleach was back again, reprising the role from 2008′s The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End, and he really is a brilliant actor. His performance is noticeably pitched differently, and we get a really compelling depiction of a dying Davros. It’s very well done – and it was really, wonderfully exciting to see Davros again. I admit, I’d heard rumours of the appearance of young Davros, but never of the return of Davros as we know him.

The interaction between the Doctor and Davros was, as you’d expect, remarkably well done. Moffat wrote some excellent confrontations between the pair – something I thought was rather effective was the Doctor begging with Davros to save Clara – and he’s managed to tell a story which not only references old canon, but builds upon it, and leads us to view the older episodes in a new light. That, I think, is the best approach to take to continuity, and Moffat very clearly has an excellent handle on that.

doctor who the magician's apprentice review peter capaldi davros julian bleach skaro steven moffat hettie macdonald

As ever, there’s a lot of things I’ve not really been able to mention and deal with. One day there’s going to be a review that’s just a list of bullet points, in all likelihood, because that’s the only way I can get through all of these things.

Colony Sarff was a wonderful concept, as were the hand mines. (Were they inspired by a typo, do you think?) I think Sarff is one of Moffat’s best original concepts in a while, actually – the eventual reveal, where the layers of his face split into the different snakes, worked excellently, and it was really well directed – Hettie MacDonald did great work throughout. Set design was fantastic throughout, from 1198 Essex to the Dalek City on Skaro. Really excellent stuff. The stopping of the planes was a really nice concept, which fulfilled just as much of a plot requirement as it needed to, and the appearance of UNIT was a nice touch too. (As was, by the way, Moffat’s repositioning of UNIT as being lead by a team of female scientists. That’s not really something he gets enough credit for, I think.)

The episode worked, then, to do exactly what it needed to do: to provide a spectacle and vibrancy, and remind everyone of the sheer joy of watching Doctor Who. It was, admittedly, very much a “part one” episode; it was doing a lot of heavy lifting for next week, and if The Witch’s Familiar falters at all, then this is retroactively going to suffer, I think.

But so far? I honestly, really enjoyed this episode, and it put me in such a good mood after having watched it. Certainly, I thought it was superior to Deep Breath last year, which, whilst wonderful, felt somewhat lacking. The Magician’s Apprentice was such a confident and strong episode that I’m actually inclined to give it…

… well, I’m inclined to give it a 10/10 actually. (That’s based on two watches, for the record.) Perhaps that one is entirely contextual; maybe it’s simply the buzz of having new Doctor Who on the TV. But for now, I am actually pleased enough with the episode to give it that sort of ranking.

Related:

Doctor Who series 9 reviews

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In Anticipation of Doctor Who Series 9

doctor who series 9 peter capaldi jenna coleman steven moffat daleks davros wallpaper hd

New Doctor Who tonight! Isn’t that such a lovely feeling?

Except, of course, it’s not just tonight. We’ve had some new Doctor Who fairly recently as well – there was the Prologue and The Doctor’s Meditation fairly recently too.

And they were quite enjoyable, weren’t they? Admittedly, the Prologue was rather unremarkable. Not a lot you can do in two minutes, to be fair. Set up some interesting stuff, mind you. Back on Karn, with Ohila from Night of the Doctor – that was unexpected, but presumably it’ll carry forward into the episode itself, which could have some potential. There was also that wonderful line from Curse of Fatal Death, which I quite appreciated – “Look after the universe for me. I’ve put a lot of work into it.” So there was a lot to like in the Prologue after all.

Plus, it was released on my birthday. 2 minutes of Doctor Who, straight from Cardiff, basically (arguably) entirely for me. (Except not really.) So, quite a nice thing there!

The Doctor’s Meditation was a lot more substantial, and definitely got me a lot more excited for the new season. Plenty of Moffat’s customary zippy one liners. He’s a really funny writer; there was some brilliant humour in those 6 minutes. I’ll have to try and find those sitcoms of his, because they’re probably excellent.

I do wonder who this mysterious person summoning the Doctor is. The maybe friend maybe enemy. The involvement of the Daleks would perhaps point to Davros, except the description doesn’t quite fit – the description would point to Missy, but Moffat’s always been very careful with the pronouns in the past, and I’m not sure he’d stop doing that just to create a surprise? Seems most likely to me that it’s a new character – and we know there’s one looking for the Doctor, from the synopsis…

So, yes. Really looking forward to the new series!

Here’s my general series 9 tag, where you can see… pretty much everything I’ve written about the upcoming series over the past few weeks. My Doctor Who index of posts can be found here, and here is my review index, where you can see the sort of thing I’ve done for series 8, and will continue to do for series 9.

See you on the other side!

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100 Books in a Year: Demons, Dying Girls, and the Homo Sapiens Agenda

100 books in a year reading challenge summer marathon books novels september 2015 2016

So, I was talking to my English teacher a while ago (read: she was talking to the class, and I was there) and she mentioned that every year she tries to read one hundred books. This started because of a competition with another girl a few years ago. (The girl won.) I, in my infinite arrogance, decided that I could probably make a decent stab at that if I put my mind to it. 

And thus, I shall. From the 12th September 2015 to the 12th September 2016, I intend to read 100 books. Just to make it a little harder on myself, though, they have to be books I’ve never read before. 

#1 – Demon Road – Derek Landy – 4/5

So, here we are, at the beginning. Derek Landy. I’ve met him, actually. Very nice man. And a very good writer! He wrote, in case you did not know, the Skulduggery Pleasant book series, of which I am quite a fan. This is his first novel outside of the series, which has now finished. (I cried.)

It’s not really a huge departure from the norm, but it is noticeably different. It’s a little more adult – not in an offputting or overly edgy way, but something that much more deftly handled. I admit, I was going into it expecting something a lot closer to Skulduggery, particularly in terms of the humour of it, which wasn’t present in the same way. There were definitely glimpses of it, and the character Glen really embodies it, but it wasn’t there to the same extent. But that’s fine, really. I can (and will) re-read the Skulduggery series one day again, and there will be all that lovely, distinctive humour once again. (I owe so much to those books.)

But now, there’s Demon Road – an original novel by one of my favourite authors, containing the same strongly drawn characters and atmospheric prose that I’ve grown to love.

#2 – Me and Earl and the Dying Girl – Jesse Andrews – 5/5

This invites comparisons to The Fault in Our Stars, I suppose, doesn’t it? To be fair, there are definite elements of a John Green novel to it. Not just in terms of the girl dying of cancer, but also the main characters. You’ve got Greg, with an interest in film making, and Earl, his weird friend, who makes films with him. They’re strongly drawn, they have weird hobbies, and there’s a girl who’s dying. If you did enjoy The Fault in Our Stars, this is probably definitely one to check out.

But, at the same time, the book is positioned as very much Not A John Green Novel. There’s a sort of low key reference to it at one point – the narrator very explicitly says that there will not be any schmaltzy messages or tumblr style quotes. He gives an example; I forget what it was, but it may as well have been “That’s the thing about pain. It demands to be felt.” 

It works, I think. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is much more acerbic and rough around the edges than a John Green novel. It feels very real. At the end of it, there’s no real message. (At least, not one that I took away from it.) There isn’t a love story, or a great romantic climax.

Death just happens, and you’ve got to live with it. (I suppose that is a message. Shh.)

#3 – Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda – Becky Albertelli – 4/5

Russell T Davies, who is a writer I very much admire, once said that homosexual love stories are more interesting than heterosexual love stories because they’re still quite new and different. The iconography of them is something we’re less familiar with; the images aren’t seared onto our brains in the same way. (He said that in The Writer’s Tale, if you’re interested. Definitely would recommend it. The quote is better served in context, too, rather than with my paraphrasing of it.)

He’s right, I think, and Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda is a fairly good demonstration of that. It’s a love story (amongst other things) between two boys of 17. There’s an element of a mystery, too – at the beginning of the novel, the two boys (Simon and ‘Blue’) don’t actually know each other’s identities; they communicate through anonymous emails, and a fairly major aspect of the book is their slow realisation of who is who. In essence, it’s a very interesting take on the standard preconceptions of a love story.

It’s also a very 2015 book. It, more than any other YA novel I’ve read, captures the essence of “teenager in 2015″. Not perfectly, no, but very close. You’ve got references to tumblr and Adventure Time and Doctor Who and Harry Potter slash fiction, none of which feel forced, and all coming together to create something very easily identifiable. This is definitely something that people on tumblr should check out.

Books Read: 3
Days since start: 2
Days until finish: 363
Currently reading: Noughts and Crosses, by Malorie Blackman

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