Author: Una McCormack
Publisher: BBC Books
Una McCormack returns with her second foray into Who fiction, her previous outing being last year’s The King’s Dragon. Now, while that story was undoubtedly well written, it wasn’t to the taste of this particular reader, who found the plot a little pedestrian and lacking in suspense. Yet, as any good reviewer worth his salt should, I went into The Way Through the Woods with a teaspoon and an open mind...
One thing that’s certainly true of this novel is that it is pedestrian. Now, that sounds like I’m criticising the novel, but I’m not. What I do mean is that there’s a lot of walking involved. The plot itself is more complex and involved than the author’s last book, and is certainly very entertaining.
Much like Dead of Winter, it’s hard to give too much detail away without ruining the plot, but essentially it’s concerned with mysterious disappearances in Swallow Woods, which the Doctor, Amy and Rory investigate – Amy and the Doctor in the present day, and Rory in 1917.
The characterisation of the regulars is once more extremely well-handled, and even though Rory undergoes a change of sorts, he’s still distinctly the same character we know and love. That that change is similar to something that’s occurred elsewhere to him recently (and I won’t say what for fear of spoilers) is unfortunate, and is something that should have been dealt with before the two similar instances were unleashed upon the public. It doesn’t do the book too much damage, but it’s a shame to see something so similar occur again so soon.
The Doctor is essentially a prisoner of HM’s Constabulary for the most part of the story, though even then does still manage to be his usual manic self. Amy too is well written, and all of the characters do seem to get large portions of dialogue. It’s an interesting shift (or should that be Shift?), as it allows the story to be told more by interaction than by narrative. That’s not to say that it’s all expository speech, but rather brings the characters more fully to life in a way that can’t always be done successfully through pages of prose. The plot itself is another tricksy one, always managing to stay one step ahead of the reader, and with just enough turns and changes of direction to maintain the reader’s interest.
There is a tension and a sense of menace throughout the novel, with it not being clear exactly who or what can be trusted. The central mystery of the disappearances does get solved, and in a rather satisfying way, though it’s not necessarily something that the reader will be able to guess at. That’s not to say that it comes from nowhere, rather that it’s cleverer than recent Who novels have been and doesn’t talk down to the reader.
Another element of the novel that has been obviously more evident in the series under Steven Moffat’s era so far is the use of time as an integral part of the story. McCormack uses different times and time travel itself to play a large part in the tale, not least as the book reaches its climax. There’s a slightly melancholic feel to the ending, but also a sense of hope. There is another small similarity to another recent tale too but I think that, in this instance, this novel would have been the first in line, the resemblance being just the result of unfortunate timing.
The Way Through the Woods is a slighter tale than Dead of Winter (as can be evidenced by the rather large typeface), but it’s just as confidently written and readable as the latter book, and this reader breezed through it in no time. While it does share a couple of elements with recent stories (both televised and prose), they are minor features in the way that Dead of Winter’s were too. They don’t make the novel any less enjoyable and are minor points in what is another well conceived Doctor Who tale.
While not as lengthy and involved as the previous story, there is a great deal to enjoy here, and it’s a book that is well worth a read.
You might think twice before venturing into the woods again though...