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The Drosten's Curse by A. L. Kennedy
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Perfectly timed with the new season of Doctor Who, I read this new novel featuring the Fourth Doctor as played by Tom Baker. Having never seen any of the original episodes I'm always curious to read about new Doctors, especially since the Fourth Doctor might be the most famous of all.

It 1978, Scotland, and something weird is going on in the Fetch Brothers’ Golf Spa Hotel where golfers are being dragged down bunkers never to be seen again. The Doctor and his new found companions Bryony and Putta think it might have something to do with the somewhat peculiar owner of the Fetch Brothers’ Golf Spa Hotel, Mrs. Fetch and her twin grandchildren. But exactly what is going on?

As Doctor Who novels go, this was one of the weirdest I've read. I'll admit that I'm in no way an expert on Doctor Who, but I enjoy watching the show and reading the stories. And I think this is a novel best suited for people like me, who have had at least some earlier introduction to the series. I wouldn't recommend it for people who are unfamiliar with Doctor Who and who would like to change that. It didn't read like a beginners book, as the Doctor in this novel is quite eccentric and it might take some getting used to it to fully appreciate it.

This being said, a lot was going on all the time, though it still missed the speed and swiftness of an episode of the show. I believe this novel was a bit longer than I'm used to when reading Doctor Who novels, so it might have to do a bit with the length. I liked the fact that Bryony and Putta were special companions, as they were only introduced at the beginning of the story and I didn't feel like I'd missed tons of backstory. They were also great companions as such, giving the story something extra.

And while the writing was really good, I was not such a big fan of the story. I can't put my finger on exactly what it was that wasn't working for me, but I never really felt it and didn't think it was that special. Nevertheless it was an enjoyable Doctor Who novel and I'm glad I read it, if only to add the Fourth Doctor to the list.

Thanks to Blogging For Books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

( )
  Floratina | May 26, 2016 |
The Death Pit was one of the best Time Trips novellas; an engagingly daft premise realised with wry humour in the vein of Douglas Adams. It’s therefore a fairly logical step to ask Kennedy to expand it into a novel and it’s always interesting to see what established writer will make of the chance to tell a full length story in the Who universe.

On the plus side the strengths of the novella are intact; the starting point is a great deal of fun. Kennedy finds a convincing take on Tom Baker’s Doctor that’s true to the character yet very much her own and peoples the story with some excellent eccentrics; Bryony, Patterson, Julia Fetch and the ogrish David Agnew (also a neat in-joke there). The trouble comes with the elongation of a short story into a full-length novel – the material isn’t there to support the expansion. Just when the Doctor and his temporary assistants have solved one problem which could neatly end the story something coincidental happens to prolong events. Despite the wittiness of the prose and the beautifully realised characters the book becomes a chore as it feels like events are simply going in circles until the author’s hit her word count and things can come to an end. There simply isn’t enough story to justify the book’s length (which, uncharitably, is something you can apply to a lot of the Doctor Who stories of the twentieth century run – perhaps it’s an even more accurate tribute than might be apparent). I’d like to see Kennedy having another go at a Who book but this time with a more original tale that might sustain a reader across more than 360 pages. ( )
  JonArnold | Apr 30, 2016 |
This review is also available on my blog, Read Till Dawn.

This is the first book I've DNF'd in a very long time, and I'm heartbroken to do so. I came into The Drosten's Curse with an open mind, ready and willing to fall in love with this new medium of Doctor Who (having previously only watched the actual TV show). Unfortunately, I just couldn't do it. I stopped reading at page 150, and then skipped to the end to read the last few chapters - the writing style careened between "fan-fiction" and "Agatha-Christie-wannabe," and just became so painful I couldn't continue.

A lot of that had to do with the characters. Bryony is supposed to be this great, clever, strong heroine like the ones on the show (Rose, Martha, Donna, etc.), but she feels incredibly two-dimensional. Her pluckiness is really the only thing even slightly appealing about her - and it feels just a little too forced. I was excited at the beginning when she was introduced as a European History major (because, hey! I love European History!), but Kennedy completely avoids using this to actually give Bryony a personality, besides a few perfunctory references to Richelieu that really don't add anything to the story besides giving a tiny bit of credibility to Bryony's claim of having majored in history.

Putta was my favorite character. If all the other characters had been done as well as he was, the book would have been okay enough for me to actually read to the end. He was very endearing (though, if I'm being extra nit-picky, there was a rather over-the-top "this is a character you're supposed to find endearing" feel to him), and I did wish him a happy ending.

But what about the Doctor? Yikes. Just, yikes. I haven't watched much of Tom Baker-era Doctor Who, but I've seen enough to get the flavor and this just wasn't it. I mean sure, there were the perfunctory Jelly Babies scattered throughout the book, and a few references to his big scarf and wild hair, but being inside his head just didn't work at all. You're never inside the Doctor's head in the TV episodes, so I can't say this for sure, but I'm 99.99% positive that the Doctor's thought process wouldn't be anything like the way it's depicted in The Drosten's Curse. Kennedy would have been better off just staying out of his head altogether, because the scenes told from his POV are just - well, they're painful. Very painful. And I decided to DNF the book during one of those scenes.

So yeah, I definitely don't recommend this book to anyone. Who would recommend a book they couldn't even bring themselves to finish, anyway? If you've never seen Doctor Who but are curious about it, then please, I beg of you, go watch the actual TV show instead!

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book through the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review. ( )
  Jaina_Rose | Mar 1, 2016 |
A.L. Kennedy's new Doctor Who novel is an expansion of her short story "The Death Pit," originally published as an eBook and included in the Time Trips collection earlier this year. Of the included stories, Kennedy's was my favorite, both for her clever adoption of a P.G. Wodehouse-style narrative voice and her vivid portrayal of the fourth Doctor, as played by Tom Baker. I was interested to see what she would do with the same materials at the novel scale.

The result is a mixed bag. The first seventy-five pages or so constitute a revised and somewhat fuller version of the original "Death Pit" story. The additions are more to characterization than anything else, including some wonderful asides about the Doctor himself - my favorite being one in which his famous wolfish grin is compared to a type of martial art. The problems don't really set in until the initial plotline concludes and the story veers left in a new direction. Done well, that type of two-act structure can be rewarding (as in the actual Tom Baker TV serial "The Seeds of Doom"), but Kennedy's second act doesn't really deliver the goods. Instead, it mostly functions as a sort of holding pattern until the third act kicks off, which is so late in the novel as to make the reader feel like they've had the rug pulled out from under them. It doesn't help that the novel's title - The Drosten's Curse - doesn't actually make any sense until that final act, so you wait and wait and wait for things to be revealed, only for them to be tied up very quickly indeed.

All that said, it's a pleasant read, and Kennedy's depiction of the fourth Doctor is still one of my very favorites in prose (her description of him as a "jolly tiger in a maroon jacket" is pretty much perfect). Like most of the other prestige Doctor Who novels published in the past few years - I would include The Coming of the Terraphiles, The Wheel of Ice, and Harvest of Time all in this criticism - the novel just seems to go on too long. A more compact narrative of two-thirds the length would have improved any one of those books, and The Drosten's Curse is no exception. The short story version was great but a little unsatisfying; this expansion is comprehensive but merely good. Somewhere between the two lies the potential for excellence. ( )
  saroz | Dec 22, 2015 |

This is an expansion of Kennedy's short 2014 ebook The Death Pit, featuring the Fourth Doctor immediately after The Deadly Assassin, investigating horrible deaths and strange goings on at a Scottish golf course. It includes all of the good stuff from the earlier version and quite a lot more incidental detail. Not much more to say than that it is very entertaining and catches the mid-Fourth Doctor era well, with perhaps a few nods to how the world has changed since the mid-1970s. ( )
  nwhyte | Sep 12, 2015 |
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"Something odd is going on at the Fetch Brothers' Golf Spa Hotel: receptionist Bryony Mailer has noticed a definite tendency toward disappearance among the guests. She's tried talking to the manager; she's even tried talking to the owner who lives in one of the best cottages on the grounds, but to no avail. And then a tall, loping remarkably energetic guest (wearing a fetching scarf and floppy hat) appears. The Fourth Doctor thinks he's in Chicago. He knows he's in 1978. And he also knows that if he doesn't do something very clever very soon, matters will get very, very out of hand"--… (more)

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