Review by C.J. Bunce
In his new novel Firefly: The Magnificent Nine, author James Lovegrove embarks on his next journey with the crew of Serenity following his highly successful launch point for the first ever novel series for the franchise, last year’s Firefly: Big Damn Hero (reviewed here at borg). It’s been thirteen years since we last saw a Firefly story like these two novels, which each contain the contents of about an entire movie. Along the way creator Joss Whedon has authorized some shorter tales via the comic books (discussed here). Firefly: Big Damn Hero was the Firefly event of last year, and this year we’ll have two novels competing for that honor, with Tim Lebbon′s contribution to the series of novels coming this fall in Firefly: Generations. So how did Lovegrove’s Firefly: The Magnificent Nine compare to his Firefly: Big Damn Hero?
As with Firefly: Big Damn Hero, Lovegrove writes the voices of the entire crew perfectly. This is another space Western, the core of the original series, and both books feel like natural progressions following the original 14 episodes (Firefly: The Magnificent Nine fits between the last episode and the 2005 film Serenity, allowing the inclusion of two fan-favorite characters–and they’re all fan-favorite characters–Hoban “Wash” Washburne and Shepherd Book). In a significant way the challenge of writing new Firefly stories is that writers only have 15 “canon” stories to build from, along with any notes from Whedon’s story development. The potential pitfall is mining the original episodes too much for throwback references. At 336 pages that’s not anything to worry about for Lovegrove. Yes, fans will appreciate the Easter Eggs throughout the tale: Jayne Cobb’s famous hat (“a giant piece of candy corn gone wrong”) does not get ignored here, and neither does his weapon of choice, Vera. But the framework of the story allows for plenty of opportunities for Lovegrove to do more with the characters. It’s hard to beat his ability to get inside the head of River in Firefly: Big Damn Hero–a difficult character who didn’t get enough time to get fleshed out in the series. But this time River takes a backseat and Jayne gets the spotlight. As a completely original story Firefly: Big Damn Hero wins, but not by a lot.
As the title should indicate, Firefly: The Magnificent Nine is an homage to the classic, epic Western The Magnificent Seven, its source Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, and countless adaptations since. It’s notable and important that this isn’t another actual adaptation or full retelling of the story, as Lovegrove takes his own tangent from the story after setting up the novel’s first act. But he peppers the story with familiar references, like using actors’ names and Kurosawa himself for new characters in his story. He also has plenty of Louis L’Amour tropes and references. One thing this novel makes clear is there are at least as many opportunities for new novels in the series as there are Kurosawa movies and L’Amour novels to pull good ideas from. So this isn’t merely another take on The Magnificent Seven so much as establishing that the nine heroes of the Serenity are worthy of that title.
Captain Mal Reynolds and the Serenity are out doing what they always do: looking for the next job. While that’s happening Jayne gets a message from an old flame, Temperance McCloud, a woman he hasn’t seen in about 13 years. She lives on Thetis where a man named Elias Vandal–scarred not unlike Jonah Hex–is ready to pull the plug on the water supply of a town called Coogan’s Bluff (yep, another throwback reference, to the Clint Eastwood movie with the great Lalo Schifrin score). Although they left under bad terms, Temperance pleads with Jayne to come to their town’s rescue. This is the Serenity crew, so how could they resist, especially when there’s no reward money to be had and the Serenity is limping along?
As Lovegrove did in his Sherlock Holmes/Cthulhu series, he ties in all sorts of relevant references to pull the reader into the world of his story. He also has plenty of fun with his chapter titles. For Firefly fans, the rollercoaster ride begins when Jayne meets back up with Temperance, only to find she has a thirteen-year-old daughter named Jane. Of course that doesn’t mean much to Jayne Cobb. Why would it? But the rest of the crew pick up on it right away, making for some great dialogue between the characters just like that found in the series.
The hardcover book design looks great, including a silver ribbon bookmark, silver foil logo, textured art, the distressed cover art design as found in the first book in the series, and great new cover art by Natasha MacKenzie.
As fans of the series would hope, Firefly: The Magnificent Nine has all the fun and familiar friends you’re looking for. It also makes for a solid Western read for fans of L’Amour, if they don’t mind some outer space references now and then. Firefly: The Magnificent Nine is a highly recommended read, available now here at Amazon. And you can now pre-order Tim Lebbon’s Firefly: Generations here at Amazon, coming in October from Titan Books.