Trivia: The full title of this book, like all the Blake's 7 novels, has "Terry Nation's" as a prefix. The author's dedication reads "To Terry Nation -- a great writer -- and to Janet, my wife, without whose help I could not have attempted to emulate him."
Ironically, although this novel is almost universally condemned by fans of the series, its rarity makes it a collector's item, often exchanging hands for over $100 on Ebay. Huge gratitude to the anonymous site visitor who gave me his copy as a gift.
What a great comedy novel this is. Paul Darrow did mean it as a joke, didn't he? From the pretentious quoting of Shakespeare on the inside sleeve, to the dedication that straight-facedly asserts "To Terry Nation -- a great writer" my chuckle muscles were having a workout before I'd even started to read the novel itself. Maybe it's just my juvenile sense of humour, but the many mentions of Uranus - and it appears twenty-five times throughout the work - kept me grinning like a loon. From "I've run from the edge of Uranus" to "I ran for cover and sanctuary on Uranus" there's a very real sense that Paul wrote this tongue rammed into cheek. With a planet that sounds like Fax and a half-brother that sounds like Axle Grease, the possibility becomes greater.
While Darrow's pulp style was probably intended to resemble a pot-boiler or Western, with all the knife battles it often comes over as one of those old fantasy novels. Many have expressed distaste at the sex scenes involved, though to be fair all five are brief and mostly over in a single paragraph. In many ways this is a reimagining of the Blake's 7 universe, recreated for an adult audience that had grown up with the series. Yes, Avon might seem less innocent than he did in season one, and it may occasionally seem to contradict minor events on screen, but these can easily be explained away if you so wish. The plot runs from the last years of Avon's father's life up to events in Space Fall, though more often feels like a book full of people killing each other for no very good reason. You might say that it alludes to the structure of Hamlet, but don't say it too loudly - people'll laugh at you.
Paul Darrow isn't, of course, a great novelist, but then neither is he a truly terrible one either, the book's subtitle giving birth to many snide jokes at its expense. His writing is full of clichés, three times likening people to cats, or giving us eyes like "twin lasers" on not one but two occasions. Funniest line for me though had to be the machine that explodes "with a roar that would have outdone a pride of lions". I was expecting to mercilessly poke fun at this novel, but in the end I found myself loving it as a well-meaning underdog. And although his writing will never win any literary awards, I personally found it to be eminently readable throughout, with a reasonable pace.
On a technical note, then the book is divided into four "parts", with each segment getting 7 sub-chapters. Namely, they are: Rogue (49 pages), Rowena (41 pages), Axel Reiss (27 pages) and Desolation (62 pages). The final part is the one to avoid the 7 sub-chapter.rule, getting 10 of them, while there's also a 10-page prologue starting off the novel. All of which corresponds to the paperback version of the book, as does the fact that it contains what I regard as an above-average number of typos. Whether such things relate to the hardback version of this work I cannot say. The fact that the book is so structured, with each "part" being told from a specific character's point of view (albeit not in first person) also reminded me of The Passion, though Darrow's as much Jeannette Winterson as he is Shakespeare.
Conclusion? Well maybe, like me, you should read the negative reviews before tackling the book, thus ensuring your expectations are lowered enough to receive it. Certainly don't expect a straight recreation of the style of the series - the tone is more adult in an obvious way, and the wit is generally absent. And as stated, the quality of the writing isn't Booker Prize material, but then neither is Jeffrey Archer's and it never stopped him. In all, taken on its own terms it manages to scrape an average...