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Subj: The Daemons of Devil's End - Book Review
Posted: Thu Nov 16, 2017 at 01:56:31 am GMT (Viewed 242 times)
None of us are getting any younger. The world is changing around us and slowly but steadily leaving us behind, the signs are clear to see. I know that technology is fast leaving me behind, and this in spite of the fact I sit in front of a computer for a living... I realise with growing certainty that the comicbooks i read today have largely given up on any effort to be innovative, fresh, or considerate of their (potential) audience, that television is not what it used to be, that I'm fast running out of time to ever progress any further at my workplace... and then there's Doctor Who.
If ever an example was needed that age is a physical barrier, a subtle but oh-so real force in the world, then one would need look no further than the current schism that has cracked the fanbase in half. The question of whether the good Doctor has any business in suddenly and inexplicably regenerating into a Woman is merely the surface of the civil war that has erupted across the net-sphere, the underlying reality, which few are cognisant enough to identify, is more to do with the clash between two completely different, yet paradoxically legitimate, generations of fans. On the one side of the schism, stands the oldtimers. The longtime fans who have been there before the series was revived in 2005, And on the other the New Series arrivals - those who came to the series with the revival and have only the revived series and its now twelve year old ethos to inform their views and perception of both series and the character.
Oldtimers will naturally have quite a differing level of expectation and what the series' standards should be, the modern series has more the influence of the fantasy Harry Potter series than it does of the more Quatermass/Hammer Horror/science-fiction stylings of the original series, and as such the fundamental differences between each generation of fans' outlooks and expectation has exploded forth in the wake of the announcement of the new casting. In a modern series where the dominant theme threaded through it is that "anything goes", the abrupt arrival of a regeneration that is female after a lifetime of comfortable manliness has only confirmed the longstanding suspicions and beliefs that Modern Doctor Who is a betrayal of what the original series was driven by and why it continually succeeded for generations...
It can be said to be a question of taste. It can also be rightly said to be a question of age. And with an older element now too enraged and/or offended by feelings of betrayal and vandalism it says much about the stubbornness and self-entitlement of these older fans that age has not brought much wisdom. Perhaps if allowing themselves a period for being self-reflective wisdom might allow an admittal that the modern series is not made for them anymore. That perhaps the correct thing to do is step aside and allow for younger people to embrace the series and judge it for themselves.
But with age comes stubbornness. And also it has to be said a sense that the world is getting smaller and, at the same time, moving further away. And in a time when the cast and crew that produced the finest of the original series are leaving us thanks to old age and the passing of time the arrival of Telos' Olive Hawthorne and the Daemons of Devil's End stands as something of a statement on all of the above. A statement, on age and time passing, that makes its point in more ways than the one.
A smallpress book tie-in to a smallpress DVD tie-in Daemons of Devil's End is proof positive that the market for Doctor Who is still strong as ever and is as creative as ever. A straight-to-video release once carried unfavourable connotations due to that very label, today however straight-to-video is a label that is little different to markers like 'You-Tube', 'Available on download', 'Spotify', 'Shazam', or 'BBC I-Player'. The format and channels available today, and peoples perception and willingness to explore, is so much greater today that ventures like this Keith Barnfarther produced anthology are almost certainly even more viable today than they were in the days of VHS and the, then, oddities such as The Zero imperative or Shakedown. And yet, in a sense it is a possibility that comes too late. Too late for anything connected to the original series at any rate. As as Olive Hawthorne and the Daemons of Devil's End purposefully demonstrates the passing of time now means that the possibilities are fast running out, that each year that passes now takes and takes away more of those involved, and the best is ever fastly receding behind us....
THE INHERITANCE - by Sam Stone
Quote:"It's a still night. The kind of evening where I can feel something brewing. I'm alone in my cottage, surrounded by the things I hold dear. My grimoire is on my lap, but beside me, on a small table, is my crystal ball, my tarot cards, an old faded photograph of my beloved friend Rhadamanthus and a poppet doll. Around my neck is an important amulet: an ankh on a gold chain. I never remove it but one day hope to pass t on to the right person.
These are the trappings of my craft. You see, my name is Olive Hawthorne and I am a witch, white of course... or at least that is what i tell those who ask...
It's almost time..."
I doubt when they were organising the commissioning and structure of this book that writers/publishers Sam Stone and David J.Howe gave any thought to its place in the landscape and features of Doctor Who books. At first appearances 'Olive Hawthorne' is an oddity, spin-off's of the modern series are accepted as ordinary and common-place in the post-2005 world, with Big Finish in particular exploiting their licence for audio by mining whatever is available for exploitation under the provision of their licence with the BBC. And yet it is a remarkable truth that the spin-off from Doctor Who is far from a modern phenomena. Whether David Howe was considering the three spin-off Target books of 1986 featuring then redundant characters Harry Sullivan, K-9, and Turlough is something we may never know. But certainly the choice to do a 'special edition' version of this release of 'Olive Hawthorne' and closely pattern it after the much loved Target novels of the early 1970's is a nod to both the origins of this release which features Olive Hawthorne, a character seen in the 1971 television Doctor Who serial The Daemons, and an evocation of the era in which both character and two stories within this new release are set around. The move to mimic the early Target book design might appear fan-pleasing indulgence at first sight, but as you read through the book and invest in these glimpses into Olive Hawthorne's long life the choice becomes in fact more of a respectful and sincere salute, not just to the character featured in one of the best loved of the original television series, but to a now sadly fading era. Increasingly we lose another much loved face concerned with the original production, and so one suspects that Olive Hawthorne and the Daemons of Devil's End is fully intended as a fond farewell by all those concerned in its making. A goodbye, but also a heartfelt thank-you for the memories.
The Daemon's may not be a story that is universally loved, tastes are individual considerations after all, but whichever is your view on the serial no one can deny it stands as the definitive example of the content and quality of the Jon Pertwee years. The DVD release makes this virtually manifest as the special edition set offers a thorough celebration and lasting record of what made the serial so memorable to those involved in it, the notion of a novelisation to tie in with that release is of course commercially motivated in part but half the way through reading it it occurred to me that what might appear to be a disposable and shoddy to begin with tie-in is worth a good deal more consideration, as while the book consists of a set of stories narrated in the first person by a reflective and elderly Olive Hawthorne these six authors involved do an additional service as between them they demonstrate the strength, and weaknesses, of the anthology format.
Sometimes, when starting a new book, you know within the first page, or in some cases even paragraph, whether it will be a winner. As Olive's alter-ego actress Damaris Hayman makes a warm lovely introduction Sam Stone is responsible for the opening prologue, which is skillfully constructed to set up what follows while also introducing and setting up the sight of an old lady approaching the end. A life of service to others in her village, fears for the future once she is gone, and a sense of resignation tinged with regrets. It all promises much indeed, well structured and evocative, but moving immediately on to the opening first story Sam Stone's just demonstrated skills go bewilderingly absent as Olive reflects on her earliest memories and we are shown what is effectively her origins - her childhood as an opinionated tomboy contrasts with the more refined and doting attributes of her sister Poppy. We learn Olive even at an early age was prone to disturbing or strange dreams and experiencing odd events as she wanders around the edges of the village. What any of it means is never quite explained, but we do learn the story of where her characteristic Ankh came from and it is done in a way which makes sense of its presence come the television story of The Daemons and why Olive would choose to wear it for the rest of her days. This is a detail that works well, the problem with this first chapter though lies in the fact that virtually nothing else is detailed. Father and Mother weave in and out of Olive's narration, but what they look like is left anyone's guess. Olive we are told had an interest in nature from an early age, but how this differed from any other child and how it is she was familiar with witches and folklore is not examined. Even as we follow her into the stables one restless night to meet who she learns is her great aunt, "a gypsy looking woman", we remain completely uninformed to whether this woman is seated, stood, white haired, tall, small, bent, white, black - there is nothing. All there is is a brief conversation, the woman hands over a grimoire, explains that Olive is Hawthorne and therefore heir to the role of guardian of Devil's End, and she is gone. Are there horses in this stable? Did Olive ever speak of her long lost great aunt with her mother thereafter? Just what did happen to poppy...?
None of it satisfies. Reading along it becomes increasingly a chore as the author is failing in her fundamental task in informing the reader and creating, through words, a three-dimensional image and real scenes for them to pass through. And by way of highlighting the shoddiness of this opening story consider the way in which Olive's age cannot be made sense of - "Then Lobelia told me who and what I really was. Her talk of the future made me feel strong and grown up, even though at 18 I was technically a woman already"(p24).
The next day sees sister Poppy disappear, and - "A few Years later as I walked through the village, returning from an errand, I came across another gypsy."(p31).
And on the very next page comes the bewildering - "I was only 17 and still so unsure of my power as a Witch."(p32).
It would be impolite, and frankly wholly unfair, to be too disparaging about Ms Stone's lack of a writing talent if judging her by this short story. Both the books prologue and its epilogue are her hand and are both qualifies examples of good writing craftsmanship and the transparent ability to present fine character-work and compel genuine emotion via the use of words and deed. Sam Stone is a successful author in her own right, so what went so wrong with the writing of this first story must I feel have a particular reason behind it. It stands a shame though as this, and
the following story from Suzanne Barbieri, both worked against the initial strengths of the book to the point where I was quite sure I wouldn't be finishing it...
HALF LIGHT - by Suzanne Barbieri
In contrast to Sam Stone's descriptively malnourished opening chapter Suzanne Barbieri's second chapter offering is a very competent affair indeed, at least in terms of how to use words to create immediately familiar surroundings and an environment that the reader can 'see' and therefore invest in. There is here the first effort to sketch out where it is that Olive lives what it is to live in a village. Olive lives in the very cottage she was born in, we can infer that her parents are now deceased, and Ms Barbieri skillfully weaves in a good deal of subtle information as the story begins. Olive we learn is now 30 years old, which should set this story in perhaps the early 1960s, a detail which leaves an intriguing black hole in the narrative on offer in this book as it means a formative entire twelve years of her life is left absent from the record.
With the occasion of an eclipse acting as the opening backdrop for the story to unfold the narrative is occasionally a confusing one, with Olive falling to some erratic behaviour and a peculiar visitor to the village both beguiling her and challenging her, both emotionally as well as mentally. That this stranger is presently discovered to be a vampire, one with a tragic secret and a pursuing curse, plumbs the worst depths of goth teen-fiction. Where the best of the tale does lie though is in demonstrating the realities of what it is/was like to be living in a small village and the fact that everybody knows your business. And if they don't know it you are made to know you aren't made to feel included. Overall the story isn't a success however, the tragic-vampire and unrequited love aspect is such an overworked and twee plot by this point in time that it is a cliche in itself. But as a story this does follow Sam Stone's mystical gypsy aunt in aking a clear underlining of the fact that magic is real in this world. The Supernatural is real in Devil's End and much of it is drawn here by the cavern that lies beneath the church...
THE CAT WHO WALKED THROUGH WORLDS - by Debbie Bennett
Quote:"Later, after I had done my best to reassure Annalise and Kathy that the girls were fine and would be home soon, I stood in the center of the barn, remembering something from my childhood. The gypsy's comment:'Sacrifices may have to be made'. But not children, surely? Was it not enough that my Poppy had disappeared? I was lying to the women. They were good people - decent people - and I was simply pretending everything was going to be alright, when in reality I was out of my depth and I knew it."
I spoke earlier of the observation that it is often possible to identify within the first page, and indeed paragraph, the sign of a good read at hand, and so Debbie Bennett proves with The Cat Who Walked Through Worlds. As Suzanne Barbieri's tale was an improvement over Sam Stone's opening tale, so Debbie Bennett improves over Suzannne Barbieri's offering. And this is a trend that holds largely true for the remainder of the book. For you see, Daemons of Devil's End is an exercise that is an example of anthology, one that as it continues to one chapter to the next slowly becomes revealed to be a good deal more calculated and thought through than one has been preconditioned to expect. One comes to realise that each successive story is being deliberately shepherded, edited, and thereby builds upon the previous, in a very deliberate fashion and to a very deliberate purpose.
I have no insight at all into Ms Bennett's life of course, but from her descriptive accuracy and attention to their quirks I would anticipate her as a devout cat lover! The opening page is a wonderful and well drawn reading of life with a cat, and the strange bond between they and their... chosen one. This then is the story of Rhadamanthus, Olive Hawthorne's familiar.
Set somewhere after the post millenium we can infer that Olive would be around her mid to late sixties by this point in time and a well regarded figure in the village, sought after for advice and often aa port of call when some event of happenstance occurs. Whether this interpretation of her importance among the community is a literal fact or the product of Olive's self image and pride is a point one questions throughout the book. Told entirely from Olive's point of view we intuitively take her word for such details, but whehter the reality of her perceived importance is subjective or literal is something we can never quite know due to the absence of any other point of view on offer. Either way the story of a strange apple thief, two missing children, and a portal to elsewhere to be found in Olive's barn, are all ingredients that one could well have found in yesterdays great children's fantasy adventure serials - conjuring as it does remembrances of the likes of Catweazle, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Peter Pan, and even The Boy from Outer Space. It feels plausible, relatable, in a way that Suzanne Barbieri's tale of noble tragi-Vampirism and lost loves didn't. Above all however it is a very well done chapter, we are shown that Olive's life is one of selfless service to the community, but it comes with a cost to her, and the results of this dedication has led to a lfe that is often solitary and often with difficult choices forced upon it.
The Cat Who Walked Through Worlds stands as a credit to this writers ability to tell a very fine short story. It may Perhaps even be the highlight of this book.
THE POPPETT - by Jan Edwards
Quote:"People refer to me as a white witch, which is a misleading term, but i seldom correct the people who use it. Far simpler to allow then the comfort it brings in knowing they are dealing with a kindly creature. The truth is a witch is a witch, be they white witches or not. Like most I adhere to the creed 'and it harm none', and I like to think I err on the lighter side... but I know what the dark side involves, having stepped over that invisible line several times when there was no other option. The power that i sensed from the woman glaring back at me, however, was not some minor hex or binding but a far grimmer prospect."
If The Cat Who Walked Through Worlds was a childrens fable, and Half Light before it exploited Dark Romanticism, then Jan Edwards' The poppet stands as the most horror influenced of the set of stories to be found here in this anthology. Interestingly it is also the only story to very directly and upfront date its events to being set in 1969 as the elderly Olive casts her mind back to the origin of a cloth doll she is considering we are brought very much into the timeframe of the televised adventure that was The Daemons and the arrival of a new face to the village in the form of Melissa Fenn, an immediately popular figure who opens a salon and quickly becomes a part of the community to the extent that busybody Olive meets a formidable rival, and as it turns out a rival in more ways than the one.
Eminently well written, eminently skilled in its desciptive aspects, Jan Edwards is not an author I am familiar with at all, but quite clearly judging from her brief biography at the back of the book she has had a very broad experience in life and won at least one writing prize - quite deservedly so if the prose demonstrated here is any thing to judge by.
We can never be fully sure with this book. Are these literal supernatural events or is the elderly Olive... embroidering her recollections? Events and props such as her grimoire and equally eccentric village neighbour Ned seem to add weight to the presentation of Olive and Devil's End being a compelling draw for all manner of unnatural forces, but in The poppett Jan Edwards constructs an environment and situation that relies on more subtle effects and challenges than visiting vampires, ghosts, and Daemons. Melissa Fenn's colourful persona and newcomer status evokes memories of the work of MC Beaton and her recently dramatised fashion diva cum busybody Agatha Raisin, but colour rapidly turns to dark clouds as the village and Olive's close friend Josephine turn against Olive, the challenge is set forth on how one should deal with such a situation and what it will take to break Fenn's hold.
It's to Edwards' great credit that, as with the authors above, she takes the assignment set before her on, and uses the short story nature to great success. Melissa Fenn is in the end unimportant, she is a literal prop being used to service and power the story, the beneficiary is some effective and quietly done character work on Olive that fits in with the other stories and the background of Olive Hawthorne to slowly add weight to her eventual final chapter in the book.
DAEMOS RETURNS - by David J Howe
Quote:"Ruben revealed that other people had reported seeing friends, loved ones, shadowy figures walking in the street, or half-glimpsed in reflected in reflected moonlit windows. Whenever these phantoms were seen, they vanished into the thin air as soon as full attention was turned to them. I discovered that even old Mrs Grendel was seen tending to her flower garden, but everyone knew that she had passed some time ago:killed by her husband or so the gossip went."
Yesterday i sought out my copy of The Sixth Doctor Handbook (virgin publishing) in an effort to research and settle some nagging question or other surrounding the events of the 1985 cancellation crisis. The very moment in history that undoubtedly mortally wounded the, till then solvent, television series of Doctor Who. I haven't picked up one of the handbooks since they were published, indeed today they are a series of books that are largely forgotten, and routinely overlooked by fandom. But re-examining them once again I was both reminded, and astonished by, how incredibly well written and informative they still stood, even now over two decades since they were published I have no hesitation at all in saying to all that these seven books are among the finest and well presented Doctor Who non-fiction books ever to see print. And that's no light claim I make as I've read most of them! Indeed just about all of the Howe/Walker/Stammers books of that era would be the very last Doctor Who books I parted company with, they are just that well done, authoritive, and accessible.
But while he still stands as one of the finest writers and authorities on the original series of Doctor Who David Howe isn't known as an actual author. Not of fiction. And on reading Daemos Returns that is something of a surprise, as what is on the one hand an epilogue of sorts to the television serial The Daemons aslo presents itself as a moving look at loss and the resultant grief andd effect on the nearest connected to it.
Set one year after The Daemons and making use of a discarded and forgotten element left over from that story Daemos Returns isn't anything to do with a 'Daemos' at all, of certainly there is a very effective set-up of ghosts suddenly being sighted around the village of Devil's End, and that does make a great hook to draw the readers interest and curiosity, but ghosts and ghoulies aren't at all what this story is about. We meet recently widowed Peter Thomson, a friend of Olive's and someone particularly moved by these events as he sees the form of his departed wife appear and the turmoil it presents turns him into the company of Olive. Here then is a story about loneliness and loss, and it isn't just the poor Mr Thomson under examination by Howe as, in line with the work seen in previous chapters, Olive Hawthorne's own inner self is under consideration as well. Tender and filled with not a small amount of love and loss Daemos Returns is really quite different to anything else on offer in this book, other stories are all about Vampires and Succubi, but Daemos Returns is the one that is about love... and I found it really quite powerful in its message.
HAWTHORNE BLOOD - by Raven Blood
Quote:I returned home, a chill in my bones that had nothing to do with the weather. Bryony had not returned and a foolish, optimistic thought invaded my mind. That she had left my home for good, her plan to take my grimoire thwarted. A cowardly thought though, If she had departed from Devil's End, she would destroy other lives elsewhere. It was my duty to stop her... whatever the cost to me. Courage was hard to gather, I had never felt so vulnerable, so feeble in body, so low in spirit. If my time had come, I could accept it; move on to the summerlands with a wish fulfilled and a happy soul."
Reaching close to the final chapter Hawthorne Blood brings the trials of Olive Hawthorne almost to the presentday and a sense of the age now having taken over. Not that author Raven Blood has the lonely Olive as some now feeble and preoccupied old maid, right from the first paragraphs she makes clear that Olive is still able enough to tend to her garden, but at the same turn there is talk of the arthritus that now makes even this regular routine an increasing chore. The will is still strong enough, the body though is wearing most thin, as is the soul.
It's a convincing and thoroughly convincing capturing of the realities of old age on a person and the resigned sense of weariness and acceptance of a world that is fast leaving the self behind of which Raven Blood deftly crafts forth from the page. The bone weary fatigue of a now nearing the end of her life Olive is a thee that has both underlined, and weaved itself, through the entire book. It is at this point however where the themes that editor Sam Stone has clearly been guiding her authors to adhere to come to the fore and we watch on as a new visitor arrives whom the long waiting Olive takes to be of Hawthorne blood and therefore her long hoped for successsor and inheritor of the mantle and res[onsibility to the village that she carries. Loneliness and a quiet desperation allow the young Byrony easy access to her cottage home, but as a local man goes inexplicably missing it quickly becomes clear to Olive that these two events are likely linked. And so follows a convincing and all-too-real duel of wits between the aged Olive and the young and very dangerous lodger who is not just hiding a secret, but out to gain ossession of Olive's hereditary grimoire.
Of all of the threats she has related so far Byrony is the most dangerous, the most plausible to a large degree, as she could be anyone. Any of the various carers or supposed friends of which we read or hear about targeting the vulnerable and elderly. The danger therefore feels all to real in this final chapter, and in being witness to how extreme old age and its effects are dealt with by the still sharp mind of Olive Hawthorne her final challenge as guardian of Devil's End stands as perhaps her finest hour. Of course the cynic might ask the legitimate question as to how much of Olive's self-narration of these events is as it happened, and how much is her exaggerating the facts adn emroidering others, but if one goes that route then the whole enterprise of Olive Hawthorne and the Daemons of Devil's End is rendered a waste of time. That Olive is a witch, that magic and the supernatural does exist, that Devil's End is a place that draws such impossibilities and secrets to it, all of these things have to be taken as a truth if the book is to have any worth at all. And in an extended universe of tie-in material and multi-genre exploring televised canon what harm is there in accepting the life and experiences of Olive Hawthorn as being as real and worthy as any other of the Doctor Who cast of characters...?
Quote:"The legacy of Hawthorne blood is a bitter one. Without generations of vigilance, this sad scene would be commonplace, not just in Devil's End but all over this land.
I have to stay strong, focused for as long as possible. For when I am gone, will anyone be here to carry on? All these sacrifices. My tale is done. And I am tired."
It's all about the passing of time. Old age. It's about the need to let things go, to know when the time has come. Whether publisher/author David Howe recognised Daemons of Devil's End as a metaphor for the ageing, cantankerous and possessive, side of Doctor Who fandom and its inability to recognise when the time has come to let go and step aside for the younger generation one can only wonder. The fact is Daemons of Devil's End is, sadly, unlikely to be of any interest or appeal to the younger generation of Doctor Who fan. It exists as a distant spin-off, produced by the small press, unauthorised by the BBC, dedicated to a character who appeared in a 1971 Doctor Who story, and readily acknowledges that passing of decades and makes use of where that character is in the here and now. Here is a tie-in to a a DVD release, its only realistic appeal lies in oldtime fans, fans who appreciate The Daemons and have a fondness for both the story and its dotty old dear who thinks she is important and of some possible service.
And all of that is a shame. As a book 'Olive Hawthorne' doesn't get off to a good start. As said above I myself didn't expect to finish it, as a thoroughly lacking and disappointing first two chapters proved to be one of the most painful reading experiences I have ever had. But the value and strength of this book was swiftly thereafter proven, as being an anthology collection it meant that no one author could be enough to defeat the story, instead 'Olive Hawthorne' rallied thanks to a succession of excellent talent and benefited enormously due to an impressive management of the authors involved to weave together a slowly developing interlinked continuity and progression of themes and events in the life of Olive that find their way towards setting the scene for a moving and very fitting goodbye to both a much loved character from the old series and a tribute and sad resignation of sorts to an era of the series that dwindles away ever faster. The sadness of time passing, and the reality that nothing and no one lasts forever...
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