Review by C.J. Bunce
British writer Una McCormack returns to the ‘verse of Firefly with her new novel Firefly: Coup de Grâce (available now here at Amazon), the eighth spin-off, tie-in novel from Titan Books advancing the future of the franchise. Readers of the novels–and fans of the series–will be happy to find this story returns fans to the fun of the TV series. It’s a short and straightforward story again–a quick episode–but it’s a retelling of True Grit with the members of the crew of the Serenity and a new central character, and if you like either of the movies (with John Wayne or Jeff Bridges), you’ll appreciate the sci-fi again being steeped in a classic Western story as in James Lovegrove’s Firefly: The Magnificent Nine.
I’ve reviewed all seven previous Firefly novels here at borg, all 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), followed by McCormack’s Firefly: Carnival (reviewed here) and M.K. England’s What Makes Us Mighty (reviewed here). All make a good starting trajectory for Firefly to develop its own expanded universe beyond the first season. I believe this is McCormack’s best sci-fi tie in yet.
We’re still in need of some real changes to the ‘verse and these characters, something that may only be possible once the stories move past the Serenity movie. Readers never can feel any stakes for the characters they love boxed into this timeframe. As in Firefly: What Makes Us Mighty, fans are taken through another job, this time not a cargo run, but again to another planet with quirky folk whose lifestyle mirrors something from Earth of the Past. This addition to Firefly lore is good because it’s told in a refreshing way. True Grit, and this story, is about a girl hiring someone to get justice against the person who killed her father. What’s different from past franchise novels is that much is from the girl’s perspective–actually an 18-year-old, young woman instead of the younger girl of the movies. Her dialogue will be impossible not to hear coming from the mouth of the latest True Grit movie actress, Hailee Steinfeld, who earned an Oscar nomination for her performance.
As I mentioned in previous reviews, if your fanbase knows the ending, the challenge for the writer is creating a good story with stakes that keep the reader jumping for the next chapter. That worked for me here better than before because I liked the underlying story and how McCormack gets her protagonist, Annie Roberts, to interact with the odd personalities of Mal Reynolds, Kaylee, Zoe, Wash, Simon, Jayne, Shepherd Book, and River. Although the author still hasn’t found the secret to making Zoe interesting (the character gets some elements you won’t find in the TV series), Annie’s reactions to River are spot on.
As with the other novels (and some episodes), the writer’s task is to split up the characters in unlikely or clever or odd ways. Kaylee can’t go off with Simon. Wash and Zoe never get paired up. This time the pairing is Kaylee and Wash, Simon with Inara, Mal and Zoe, and Jayne and newcomer Annie–with Book left back at the “home base” with River. I think readers want to read more about River and Book, so it’s going to be disappointing not to see them driving the action. For what we get, McCormack captures River’s strange personality. We’re stuck not knowing anything new about Book. The team-up of tough guy Jayne and a “kid” (to him) works very well.
Mal Reynolds seems to pride himself on not getting involved in local politics, yet getting involved so many times now defines him, as it did Han Solo, as it frequently did and does the timelord of Doctor Who, and as it did Captain Kirk and his successors. What is the spacefarer code, and how do these sci-fi franchise characters adapt their code to the changing times? Is the answer to break the rules of society to follow their personal theories of justice and fairness? For this one they need only follow the old Cowboy Code. There’s a kid (to them–again she’s 18) who needs help. ’nuff said. But Mal gets to dabble with frontier justice, especially the aftermath of the battles that define him as a Browncoat.
An improvement on McCormack’s last foray into the Firefly ‘verse and good fun for fans of True Grit, Firefly: Coup de Grâce is available now here at Amazon.
A quibble I keep having with this series: The novel has another solid contribution by cover artist Natasha Mackenzie, but as with prior entries this story is not centered on the characters on the cover (it would have been eye-catching to include Annie Roberts on the cover in some way).