“Vastra and Strax and Jenny? Oh no, we don’t need to bother them. Trust me.”
Marlowe Hapworth is found dead in his locked study, killed by an unknown assailant. This is a case for the Great Detective, Madame Vastra.
Rick Bellamy, bare-knuckle boxer, has the life drawn out of him by a figure dressed as an undertaker. This angers Strax the Sontaran.
The Carnival of Curiosities, a collection of bizarre and fascinating sideshows and performers. This is where Jenny Flint looks for answers.
How are these things connected? And what does Orestes Milton, rich industrialist, have to do with it all? As the Doctor and Clara joint the hunt for the truth they find themselves thrust into a world where nothing and no one are what they seem.
I’ve read a few of the Doctor Who novels and novellas. I particularly liked the Justin Richards penned Paternoster Gang novella ‘The Devil in the Smoke’ so when I saw that one of the first 12th Doctor books to be released would be both written by Justin Richards and featuring Vastra, Jenny and Strax I straightaway decided to pre-order it- despite my mixture of fascination and trepidation about the carnival setting. I love the idea of the circus and carnival performers…all except clowns. I hate clowns. I was hoping that there wouldn’t be any scary clown scenes (there weren’t, phew!!)
On 11th September the book arrived onto my Kindle and by the next day I had read the entire book. It’s an easy read and the characters were written beautifully. I particularly thought the depiction of Strax was note-perfect. He gets all the best lines, is incredibly funny and the way he mixes up pronouns was captured brilliantly. I understand that Sontarans are clones so they are all male, thus no need for gendered pronouns. However, Strax refers to Clara as “Miss” and this confuses me. In this novel, Clara asks Strax about this and his answer definitely made sense to me and put my mind at ease on the matter for good! I also really enjoyed Strax’s friendship-of-sorts with a bloke he gets to know in the local pub. On the surface they may seem to have little in common but they enjoy to complain, drink and fight and that is enough to bond them together!
The Doctor definitely maintains the darkness that Capaldi has brought to the role so far, and the change in relationship between him and Clara is captured brilliantly too. Clara gets to work alongside the doctor, but also to investigate on her own, allowing us to see her as an independent woman and not just a sidekick.
My only issue with relationships in the book is regarding Madame Vastra and Jenny. There is no mention of their marriage and the relationship depicted is that of mistress and maid rather than of the loving couple (albeit with some power imbalance) we’ve seen on the TV. I did like, however, that Vastra’s storyline did allow us to see her as a more emotional being. Jenny, as usual, is empathetic, friendly yet strong.
The story is paced well and builds a real sense of suspense. The carnival setting provides an eerie mysterious atmosphere and it is easy to imagine this fantastical setting populated with strong men, bearded ladies, wolf boys and indeed potato headed squat men and lizard women. The book is a mixture of Victorian mystery (murder in a locked room) and Sci-Fi (aliens, mysterious energy spikes) and the other-worldliness carnival setting means that this combination works really well together.
I’m struggling to say anymore without giving any spoilers away but I will say that I loved this book. It was an enjoyable romp through Victorian London and I would love more Doctor Who books featuring The Paternoster Gang.