Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Finally, that Primeval Book review: Shadow of the Jaguar

Way back when, the lovely MediumRob gave me a prize of a copy of Steven Saville's primeval novel 'Shadow of the Jaguar' for... well, it was supposed to be for making an 'amusing' comment and then just turned into a 'why you should give it to me' comment (which, funnily, despite the fact I should have bought it anyway, I won...)

[I've long since been wondering in the back of my mind 'what happened to my book review?' That lack of comment would be because you have not yet posted said book review duh-brain. Still stuck, not even in draft, but on a bloody memory stick at the office. Double-duh.]

ANYWAY. The book. I really enjoyed it. I avidly turned the pages and relished visualising a hot, sweaty Nick Cutter in the heat of the night the Peruvian jungles and Team Cutter making their usual mistakes on a grander scale than the TV show will allow (with added cursing!). And this was despite not being the mid-teenage boy it was probably aimed it: plenty of military activity; significant amounts of violence and gore - more than in the TV show for sure; plenty of identification of the virtues of heroism in the modern world - intellect, emotional courage and social conscience being as prized as skills in violence. The only thing missing was any gratuitous descriptions of Abby in her panties [though on reflection that demographic is probably said teenage boy's father - or mother should she have such inclination to appreciate].

It's certainly an odd beast of a book, being exceptionally well-produced - quality paper in a quality hardback - and with an experienced writer (Steven Saville).

The plot isn't a great deal more complicated than your average Primeval TV episode, whatever that means (simplistically complex??). As mentioned, one of the joys of the literary form is that writers can work with the reader to create far more expansive vistas than the ITV budget will allow the TV programme*. In this respect, the writing is far better than I could have hoped for, even though, as MediumRob pointed out, the initial 'how many adjectives can we throw at this paragraph?' is a tad wearing. That thankfully settles down fairly quickly and though some of Saville's 'purple prose' made MediumRob wince, I actually found the character dialogue and interior thoughts rather well put together. They certainly sounded like the characters as they are written/performed on the TV show even if this did sometimes mean they still failed to be fully rounded human beings. [Almost nothing convinces me that the actor, director, or writers could do anything to make Stephen more than a cipher-esque character for endless online slash-fiction... Stoic to the point of solidifying, static to the point of being inert [even if he is busy being 'heroic'], I never quite got the point of Stephen providing some het girl eye-candy for those who failed to recognise the loveliness of Professor Nick Cutter/Douglas Henshall [fools!]. Frankly, brooding Stephen only makes sense as the central focus for slash-merchants...]


As MediumRob said, the author does seem far happier detailing the SAS soldiers protecting the dinosaur hunting team in Peru than getting to the crux of any dino scare story. That said, Saville does this so well as to not make the SAS action completely jar with the hardly-action-hero-actions of the dino crew, and given the popularity of Tom Ryan from S1 it seems well placed to have such character(s). Undoubtedly, it created a slightly odd mixture of genres, but it was enjoyable anyway. I also wasn't too bothered by the "author's over-research syndrome" - partly because it meant you did actually believe in the characters having brains that engaged with history, geography, philosophy, archaeology and all those other -ologies that aren't really science. Okay, so I've limited use for knowing what Connor et al found from all their Internet searches, but you take it in your stride. And I rather liked the extended diatribes Saville sometimes presents in the guise of character/narrative progression. Some are clearly wider-ranging social conscience issues - as in de-forestation and tourism; others more character-driven (I chuckled heartily at Cutter's frustrated anti-globalisation rant when hearing Pavarotti playing in the Peruvian restaurant. It seemed very in keeping with Cutter's general loathing of certain aspects of the modern world).

Ostensibly the boy(s) lost in Peru get a hefty share of the narrative, and the tale is book-ended, and a few times interrupted, by Lester's sneering engagement/necessary obsequiousness with aristocratic authority. However, it is - thankfully for me - most often Cutter's story. That suits me fine, as I have no objection to imagining the delivery of the dialogue and visualising his heated mannerisms and action. There are several nice little touches in Saville's writing on such matters. There's an early recognition that Cutter's "mild Scottish burr" becomes more pronounced when he's passionately discussing his work or an idea. And Cutter's ambivalent feelings about Jenny/Claudia/the timeline are nicely dealt with (though I suspect the afore-mentioned teenage boy is less than bothered about all that). Certainly, it's Cutter's emotions and attitudes that drive the other characters' behaviour and responses: everyone seems to move in accordance with his gravitational power, his moods, his heart. In this novel Jenny probably comes off next best in developing her character, but as in the series, it's hard not to feel that the construction of every character beyond Cutter is less developed on a scale of diminishing returns. Connor - as much as he initially annoyed me on TV - at least seems to have a character. But Abby seems to have less and less of one (she mostly spends the novel trying to be resilient in the face of death and destruction), and my feelings on Stephen are already recorded. The plot made the sort of sense you would expect a Primeval story to make: from the future into the past goes one more dodgy creature...

So, my overall response on this book: a solid 6.9 out of 10. I can't quite push myself to make it the round 7/10 (I'm not the teenage boy reader) but I loved the Cutter portrayal enough to go beyond MediumRob's 6/10. A happy reader!

* For those who've read Shadow of the Jaguar, I'd also venture that Henshall's vertigo, even with his frequent desire to do his bit with stunt filming, would preclude any filming of the high-rise rope-bridge scene. Not least for protecting him/stunt double from personal damage...


khushi said...

Primeval, a high-budget series, follows Professor Nick Cutter and his team as they investigate anomalies in time found in the Forest of Dean. An unfortunate side-effect of the anomalies is that dinosaurs are moving through them and into the present time, making the team's investigations that much more stressful.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing such a wonderful review. Its really nice. Lovely reading. And this TV Show is also good.