I have had both good and bad experiences with Doctor Who novels. For a show that can be so delightfully complex, the books written to be part of the same universe can be dreadfully plain. Borderline boring. Engines of War was a mixed bag. For me anyway. I loved getting to know The War Doctor a little better, seeing as how we only really see him for an episode.But other elements of the story leave a little to be desired.
I’m going to start this review by stating that the narrative voice sounded a lot like a friend of mine had written this book. I kept having to fight the urge to edit the prose in front of me because the voice was so similar. So if you’re reading this, Josh, I have discovered your nom de plume. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.
Moving on, I have a little more to say about the voice. I have a feeling that the publishing of this book was a rush job. There are typos and grammatical errors sprinkled throughout the story; errors that would have been picked up, I like to think, it the editor had had more time. I have a feeling that the big shots at BBC Books wanted to have this story out while the 50th anniversary special was still fresh in Whovian minds, and so the prose suffered a little. Not only this, but there are about a hundred unnecessary “howevers” in this book, which makes the story feel a little “first draft-esque. 99% of those “howevers” would have disappeared if Mann had just edited. Or if his editor had had time to edit properly.
I also feel that the story was trying to do too much in too short a time period.
“Too short a time period?” I hear you exclaiming, “Bec, this is a novel not a short story!”
Yes. But there was still too much going on. Engines of War is 312 pages. Too much happens for any of the big events to be explored properly. One minute we’re learning about the Degradations of the Daleks and the next we’re in Gallifrey, being betrayed by the other Time Lords (not a spoiler. We’ve all seen the Time Lords in The End of Time). I feel like Mann could have delved into the ramifications of events more. Yes, this story takes place during a war, but readers still deserve a little detail when it comes to events that the author is trying to have them swallow.
Although The War Doctor was a beautifully complex character, presented as trying to simultaneously be his old self and someone who would do what is necessary to end the Time War, he was the only one. His companion in this story, Cinder, is nothing more than a narrative device. She is there because the Whoniverse dictates that The Doctor needs a companion. And although Cinder kicks ass, is gay, and knows her way around some witty back-and-forth, there’s really nothing to her. She fights, is sassy, and that’s it. Did I care what happened to her? No. Did I find her funny? Yes. Cinder is essentially comedic relief, and while I am OK with characters having a specific purpose for an author (Hermione is one such character. She provides a lot of exposition for the reader in the guise of her bookishness), I am not OK with those characters having no substance.
All in all, though, this was a fun read, if not particularly well thought out. If you are intrigued by The War Doctor, then I suggest you read this. If not, then you can skip this one.