The Bog Warrior Review
Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull gives his verdict on Cecelia Ahern’s Time Trips story.
Unlike the Puffin e-book venture that preceded it, the Time Trips series asked those involved to handpick a Time Lord – either a favourite, or one they feel most comfortable writing for (most likely the latter) – as opposed to assigning them one. There was, naturally, going to be a clash at some point and we have reached that stage. Both Cecelia Ahern and Nick Harkaway chose the Tenth Doctor, leading to the inevitable comparison between their e-books (similarly, Joanne Harris will write for the Third Doctor later this year, much like Trudi Canavan back in March). While Keeping Up with the Joneses is, ultimately, superior to The Bog Warrior, Ahern’s story does have its merits.
The Bog Warrior gets off to a rousing, intriguing start as the Doctor steps out of the TARDIS in the first line, in need of a brief respite from his typical high-octane adventures (it’s unclear when the story is set as the Doctor is travelling solo so either during the 2009 specials or after leaving Rose, Martha or Donna although there is a possible reference to the ‘he will knock four times’ arc, make of it what you will). In traditional fashion, it’s not long before he spies trouble at a stiffly formal masquerade in which stroppy heir Prince Zircon is to pick a bride (out of a collection of reanimated corpses attending the ball, called the Bog People; deceased men and women who have been brought back to life to serve the tyrannical current Queen) in order to prevent war between the two kingdoms occupying Cashel. The Bog Warrior pays a lot to the Cinderella folk tale and so Zircon only has eyes for the beautiful servant, Ash, whose parents were bumped off by the evil Queen, also her stepmother. If all that has had you more confused than a fish in a dishwasher then that’s okay, I had to double-check a few things at several points. Ahern has established a whole new culture in such a short word-count and because the Doctor is in the dark from the off he’s learning as the reader does.
One of the major problems The Bog Warrior has is that the Doctor just doesn’t seem like the Doctor at all. He’s too quiet, too content and, frankly, not very clever. The Tenth Doctor is madcap, flirty, cheeky, intelligent and charismatic and he displays none of these traits. Briefly, he has one or two five-hundred mph spiels and that’s when I had my heart in my mouth, hoping Ahern would maintain this tone but then it’s gone. It feels, to me, that she didn’t do enough research (although ‘research’ is simply watching old Tennant episodes, if it were me I would do too much research) and so her Doctor is only half-baked, which is a pity.
Writers of Who that choose to set their story in the specials year or in between Tennant’s three series usually have a good reason. Perhaps they want to introduce their own one-off companion to mark their story with their unique stamp, or maybe they need a new character to work as a plot device (see: February’s e-book). Ahern’s decision to have the Doctor arrive without a companion is, to me, baffling, especially when you acknowledge the fact she didn’t create one (there are a few characters that come and go, taking their turns to ask questions etc. but nobody that sticks by the Doctor’s side throughout). Someone like Martha or Rose or Donna would have helped The Bog Warrior greatly, lending a familiar voice in a story laden with unknown characters.
The plot is pretty much what saves The Bog Warrior from falling down a further few marks. It’s distinct and the references to Cinderella are fun but everything can get a little convoluted. There are a couple of royal families that have an extended dynasty and with everyone in the Cashel monarchy possessing chemical element/mineral-based names your mind starts to boggle faster than a particularly confusing episode of Game of Thrones.
One thing, a pedantic quibble, is what the Doctor says in an exposition-heavy sequence. It seems churlish to complain but it really stuck out (for the benefit of those that wish to read The Bog Warrior I’ve omitted a couple of words for their sake): “But whatever it is about these [McGuffins] that we don’t know, it has made [bad-guy] very angry. And afraid. And if [badguy’s] afraid then they are our weapon against [bad-guy].” For ‘the man who never would’ it seems awfully out of character for him to be talking excitedly about possessing a weapon. It’s hard to speak about the McGuffin in question but it plays a key part in the finale and it’s just so unlike the Tenth “Books! The best weapons in the world!” Doctor to be relying on something harmful to the villain when he typically uses his gob to get out of sticky situations.
Ahern also laces The Bog Warrior with lots of Easter eggs, ones that you might pick up on upon first reading. They’ve all got an Irish theme running through them so be only the look out for them.
Another step down for the Time Trips series and I really am bemoaning this short line of e-books. They’re fun, I’ll admit, but I’m desperate for something with grit. The closest we have come is Into the Nowhere. Well, it might be too late. All the authors announced have had their stories published except Joanne Harris who we should expect in the coming months. Hopefully she can top the series with something really special.
As with my 11 Doctors, 11 Stories reviews, I thought I’d list each of the Time Trips series from best to worst (although they’ve all been good in their own little ways):
- Jenny Colgan – the Eleventh Doctor – Into the Nowhere.
- Nick Harkaway – the Tenth Doctor – Keeping Up with the Joneses.
- A.L. Kennedy – the Fourth Doctor – The Death Pit.
- Trudi Canavan – the Third Doctor – Salt of the Earth.
- Jake Arnott – the Sixth Doctor – A Handful of Stardust.
- Cecelia Ahern – the Tenth Doctor – The Bog Warrior.
The Bog Warrior is out Thursday 8th May 2014.