(ISBN 0-563-53839-2)







 New Orleans, the

 early 21st century.

 A dealer in morbid

 artefacts has been

 murdered. A charm

 carved from human

 bone is missing. An

 old plantation, miles

 from any water, has

 been destroyed by a

 tidal wave.

 Anji goes dancing. Fitz

 goes grave-robbing.

 The DoctoR attracts

 the ATTENTION of a

 homicide detective

 and the enmity of a

 would-be magician.

 He wants to find out

 the secret of the re-

 Dneck thief and his

 blind wife. He'd like

 to help the crippled

 curator of a museum

 of magic. He's trying

 to refuse politely the

 request BY a crazy

 young artist that he

 pose naked with the

 man's wife.
 Most of all, he needs

 to figure out what

 all of them have to

 do with the Void that

 is hunting him down.
 Before it catches him.


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The City of the Dead







With its unproven author and her apparent penchant for prosaic titles, The City

of the Dead was a book that I couldn’t have been less interested in back in 2001. Published the very month that I went to university, Lloyd Rose’s debut novel is the first of several titles that I didn’t track down until I resolved to plug all the holes in my Doctor Who literary library several years on from their release. However, whilst it could never compare to the drunken festivities of Freshers’ Week, The City of the Dead is a much more alluring affair than its billing would suggest. Packed with perceptive characterisation, tortuous twists and electric ambience, this extraordinary tale is one of BBC Books’ most distinguishing releases.


To begin with, Rose’s subject matter is effectively anathema to Doctor Who. Whilst black magic and those that practise it can be found in many a Who story, the dark arts are usually besmirched by the Doctor and his science and reason. Here, however, Rose treats magic and the supernatural with reverence, lending them far more authority than is usually the case in a book such as this. The ensuing tale therefore has a unique flavour to it; a sense of true otherworldliness that Rose uses to season almost every line. The pseudonymous author’s distinctive prose then exacerbates this strange feeling - much like her story, Rose’s words are evocative and ethereal; Kate Orman on a bad trip.


Another aspect that makes The City of the Dead stand apart from the crowd is its bravura world-building. Set in roughly-contemporary New Orleans, Rose’s story is satiated with an immense amount of detail that really sells the location, but without ever going into information overload. I presume that Rose is American (a few tell-tale zeds have survived the final edit), but even if this is the case, the picture that she paints and the mood that she imbues it with are almost touchable. Indeed, the only thing missing from this book is a steaming hot bowl

of jambalaya.


Nonetheless, the novel’s greatest strength by far is its stunning characterisation. The author’s creations range from the colourful and almost clichéd to the tortured and deranged. We have maniacal wannabe mages, their sex-slave adherents, and even murder detectives who feel so familiar that you’d swear they’d been torn from a US television series until they put their ineradicable spell on you. Most impressively of all though, we have a Time Lord haunted by the horrors of his absent past; a Doctor whose lost memories flow from the tip of his tongue with insentient ease, totally bypassing any cognitive thought. He’s like a lyric from The Dark Side of the Moon – there’s someone in his head, but it’s not him.



Rose’s juxtaposition of the fresh, post-Burning eighth Doctor and the ghosts of his past is then mirrored in her villain who is, in every sense, a sinister reflection of the Time Lord. One puts his faith in the occult; the other in science. One seeks power and vindication; the other only wants to help people. One’s dreams are tormented by the wrongs once visited upon him; the other’s are plagued by silent memories of the wrongs that he had no choice but to visit upon others.


However, with the Doctor

assuming such a meaty

role, for the most part his

two companions are left

out in the cold. This book

might have worked much

better without Fitz and Anji

in it, as in terms of structure

and tone it has far more in

common with the Doctor’s

solitary post-Ancestor Cell

adventures than it does more traditional runarounds. Fitz isn’t handled poorly as such; he is just afforded very few opportunities to really shine. Anji, meanwhile, is given quite a few bits and pieces to do, but none of them quite sit right. Whilst having her dating again doesn’t feel wrong itself, particularly in light of Fear Itself’s revisionist developments, the insouciance with which she goes about it does. Having her enthuse about banks and money only compounds the (subjective!) propinquity of her lover’s death.


My biggest criticism of The City of the Dead though is that its plot is a little loose, to say the least. The events depicted here don’t feel constrained by traditional narrative conventions – offshoots of plot are heavily developed only to be left to wither (if they are of relevance at all), whilst things of apparently very little import later prove to be fundamental. Rose’s disorderly plotting is perhaps more of an acquired taste than a flaw per se, as what it lacks in cohesion it certainly makes up for in realism. The lack of poetry is, in itself, poetic.


On balance, there is far more to like about this book than not. It’s not Rose’s finest work by any means, but it’s still a rulebook-defying, thought-provoking and masterfully-written gothic romance. Not everyone’s cup of tea, I’ll grant you, but it’s the sort of brew that I can really go for every now and then.


Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010


E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.

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