Review by C.J. Bunce

I’ve reviewed all six Firefly novels here at borg, all by but the fourth by James Lovegrove (Firefly: Big Damn Hero reviewed here, Firefly: The Magnificent Nine reviewed here, Firefly: The Ghost Machine reviewed here, and Firefly: Life Signs reviewed here, with the fourth by Tim Lebbon, Firefly: Generations reviewed here).  All make a good starting trajectory for Firefly to develop its own expanded universe beyond the first season.  British writer Una McCormack has created the latest novel in the series, Firefly: Carnival (available now here at Amazon).  Marking the sixth novel in the series, it seems like it’s time to find a way to up the stakes for these characters.

The thinnest of the stories so far, in story and page length, Firefly: Carnival merely adds another quick “episode” to the original first season of the TV series.  That is, it doesn’t develop what we already know about the characters and setting.  The novels all are set before the movie, before the deaths of Wash and Shepherd Book.  This worked for the first few books.  However, wedging the stories inside the first season ‘Verse means there can be no stakes–no risk that when someone pulls a gun on Mal, he might not survive.  Is it time for Joss Whedon to allow a multiverse that cancels some of the events in the movie Serenity to allow for a wider reach of content?  Or maybe Whedon needs to step in and tell us what he envisions will happen next for this fan-favorite, beloved crew?

We already know Mal only cares about the next job, that he doesn’t like Book talking religion, that he is impatient and will look out for his crew, in theory, against all comers.  We know Jayne is cocky and cares little for anyone else.  We don’t know why Simon won’t make a move toward the ready, willing, and able Kaylee.  And we don’t know what the future holds for River.  Inara comes and goes.  Wash is only ever a husband, and Zoe is only ever a loyal lieutenant to Mal (how did she end up with Wash anyway?).  Book is set up in the TV show to be Firefly’s loner with secrets, but we never get to see his past life in any format.  As a reader and a fan, it feels like we need more.

Roughly half of McCormack’s novel revisits what we know, amounting to unnecessary world-building directed at those who already know these characters, and the other half introduces new characters that–because of the nature of the series of novels–obviously can’t be around for long.  McCormack’s writing in this book also seems to suffer, more like an advance review proof copy than a final edition for release, sometimes lacking subjects and pronouns, sometimes leaving sentence fragments, sometimes failing to pick up other words in sentences, among other typographical errors, in addition to giving the characters a rural dialect that doesn’t match the voices of the characters in the TV series.

I have high hopes for the next entry in the novel series, by relatively new voice M.K. England, in Firefly: What Makes Us Mighty (Book #7), available here at Amazon for pre-order, coming from the publisher later this year.  England’s Guardians of the Galaxy novel No Guts, No Glory (reviewed here) was solid sci-fi storytelling, so hopefully this next installment will get the path of the franchise back on track.

Firefly fans will find enough reason to devour each of these books in the series, but some upping of the stakes would be a welcome change.  This is a gorgeous series of hardcover novels, complete with embedded ribbon bookmarks, and great cover artwork by Natasha MacKenzie.  For series completists, Firefly: Carnival is available now here at Amazon.