Tag Archive: Firefly: The Magnificent Nine


Browncoat alert! 

It’s been 15 years since we last saw the Serenity crew on the big screen.  If you’re like me, you’ve been enjoying every new Firefly tie-in novel since the first debuted in 2018.  Author James Lovegrove is a frequent mention on our borg annual best-of lists, and for the Firefly series he has penned Big Damn Hero (reviewed here), The Magnificent Nine (reviewed here), and The Ghost Machine, reviewed here earlier this year.  Fan-favorite author Tim Lebbon (whose work has been frequently reviewed here at borg, and we interviewed Lebbon about his Alien tie-in novel here five years ago) is stepping in for the fourth book in the series, Generations, available now here for pre-order.  And now we have a cover reveal below for the fifth Firefly novel.  James Lovegrove’s Firefly: Life Signs is now available for pre-order here at Amazon.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Fifteen years after the last time we saw the crew of the Serenity, the next novel of Joss Whedon’s space Western universe is here to quench your thirst for more Firefly.  James Lovegrove’s third Firefly novel, The Ghost Machine, again takes place between the events of season one of the TV series and the Serenity film, but unlike his first two novels (Big Damn Hero, reviewed here, and The Magnificent Nine, reviewed here), which felt like movie prequels to the 2005 film, this new story feels like the next episode of the TV series.  It borrows a lot from the series, which will make Browncoats feel like they’re nestling back into familiar territory, while also tapping into tropes fans of science fiction will be familiar with.

The first act finds the crew on one of its trademark jobs to pick up for none other than Badger, the man in the bowler hat, certain strange cargo, that unknown quantity sealed in a can that we’ve seen the series pursue in episodes like The Train Job and The Message, and outside the stories of the ‘Verse in films like The Transporter (it’s not a person this time).  The second act reveals what is inside the crate with the Blue Sun label, which Captain Mal Reynolds ultimately decides is too risky to even take aboard his ship, and then wraps readers in a whirlwind of activity as the ramifications of the cargo are played out–sort of.  Recall that niggling feeling of the crew–and the viewers–from the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Cause and Effect,” and the trapped in a parallel world vibe of the Voyager two-parter “The Killing Game” and dreamscape of “Bliss”?  But The Ghost Machine really kicks in with the third act, as everything you’ve read is taken to a different extreme, and a ticking clock propels the reader headlong into a gripping climax.  What will it take, and who is the right choice from the crew, to break the spell and reveal the truth behind this unusual Pandora’s jar?

Lovegrove, whose novels we’re reviewed previously here at borg–both from the world of Firefly and his Sherlock Holmes mysteries–is really good at endings, and that’s what makes this story a winner.  Along the way the author investigates each crew member’s ideal worlds–and their worst nightmares.  This is one of the darker tales from the Firefly ‘verse, on par with the episode “Objects in Space.”  Peppered throughout the novel, as you’d expect from anything sourced from the mind of Joss Whedon, who serves as consulting editor on these books, are the Easter eggs, particularly from the Western genre.

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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.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

So many genre novels are quick reads, full of action and modern surprises.  Once in a while you stumble upon the slow read–the book that is so smartly written, so exciting and enjoyable you never want it to end, and you force yourself to take it slow and enjoy the author’s use of language.  With his latest book I’ve now added James Lovegrove to my shortlist of authors I will make sure to read as soon as his next work is released.  His new novel is Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea-Devils, book three of his trilogy, The Cthulhu Casebooks.  In short, this work has it all–tie-ins, a mash-up, genre-bending, and immersive storytelling in a suspense-filled mystery adventure.  It’s a big feat because the very subject matter and project has much to overcome.  First, it is the third book in a series, not your usual place as a reader to begin.  As it is a new release, I delved in anyway, and discovered Lovegrove crafted a complete end-to-end story requiring no prior knowledge of the first two books in the series.  Second, it’s a tie-in and a mash-up of the most well-known historical characters in all of fiction, Arthur Conan Doyle‘s Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson twisted together with the macabre, dark world of H.P. Lovecraft.

I’ve reviewed several Watson and Holmes stories written in the past decade and the challenge is always the same–getting two voices just right, voices that are so familiar after reading original Doyle writings, and watching countless modern sequels and a host of television series and movie versions.  One misstep and it’s easy to pull a reader out of the narrative, yet Lovegrove doesn’t skip a beat in this regard.  Whether you’re drawn to the TV series with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, the classic Basil Rathbone film version, modern retellings, or just Doyle’s own marvelous words, you will feel this book is a believable sequel to the original stories and the voices are spot-on.  Another barrier for Lovegrove to overcome is getting right that rich world of H.P. Lovecraft, whose works and words drip with a uniquely strange brilliance and eerie beauty.  Again, Lovegrove fully captures the spirit of his creations and seaside environments, too, as if he’d conjured Lovecraft for this story.  This strange mash-up of the logical, rational Holmes and Watson and the dark and fantastical Lovecraft probably shouldn’t work so well.  These are opposites, right?  But Lovegrove fuses them into one, evoking the 19th century wonder of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne science fiction and fantasy along the way.  Not merely a fun romp for fans of either world, Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea-Devils has all the realism and research of a scholarly work, sinking us into the world of England, the nautical life of coastal peoples at the turn of the 20th century.

The story begins a few years after the retirement of Holmes and Watson.  In Doyle’s story “His Last Bow” we learned the character retired to a farm at Sussex Downs taking on beekeeping as a pastime.  Only two original stories take place during Holmes’ retirement.  This is where Lovegrove’s Watson catches up with Holmes: The date is 1910 and as England and the world moves toward war, Holmes and Watson learn the leaders of the famed Diogenes Club are all dead, found under strange circumstances.  When three young women go missing in a nearby town, the detective duo takes on sleuthing out their disappearance as their final case, where they encounter local lore that speaks of monsters from the deep and a foretold legend of the return of a phantom from long ago.  Locals believe that is why the women are missing, and Holmes knows it must all be connected.  How much is real, how much is fantasy?  Is it possible Holmes could discover both worlds might co-exist?  Can Holmes ever escape the specter of his lifelong nemesis Moriarty?  And what of his brother Mycroft?

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