Pay close attention, gentle reader. At the end of this, there’s going to be a competition – a first for this ‘ere blog – in which you’re going to be able to win an actual real thing that you can own and that will arrive through the post, rather than through a Superpoke on Facebook.
But first, a question. Who do you think a novel based on Primeval would be aimed at? I ask this because I have a copy of the first in Titan’s new range of Primeval novels and I’m slightly curious as to the thinking process behind it.
Primeval is something of a family show, going out on Saturdays, nice ‘n’ early in the evening. Yet, Shadow of the Jaguar is definitely not something you should be giving to the kiddies.
In this brand new original never-seen-on-TV Primeval adventure Cutter, Stephen, Abbie, Connor and the rest of the team have a bigger challenge on their hands than they could have possibly imagined as they head for the Peruviuan rainforest.
Is it any good?
As a TV tie-in, Primeval – Shadow of the Jaguar is something of a surprise. Firstly, it’s a quality piece of printing. It’s a hardback, rather than some tatty softback; it’s 246 pages or so long and set in relatively small, narrowly leaded type rather than the 14pt Frutiger Vast that many tie-ins arrive in; yet it’s only £6.99 (£4.89 on Amazon). Give them their dues: Titan clearly aren’t trying to rip anyone off here.
Secondly, this is not something you should be waving in front of the eyes of the young and impressionable dinosaur-lover in your family. This is for teenagers at the very least.
The plot itself is relatively basic. Cutter and his team of slightly rubbish dinosaur investigators head off to Peru to see if something that’s been killing tourists and the natives has come through the first non-British anomaly. There they come across conspiracies and beasties, as you’ve no doubt come to expect.
Where is differs from the on-screen plots is in the introduction of a team of SAS soldiers who come with Cutter and co to act as protection against whatever they come across, whether it be man or beast. I’d say fully a quarter of the story is taken up by these guys, so much so it sometimes feels like the author, Steven Savile, would rather be writing an Andy McNab-esque tale of daring-do, rather than something about the Primeval team.
There’s also a small amount of swearing – and a hefty amount of gore. Really nasty gore. While Primeval will always turn away from a dinosaur making a meal of something – or someone – Primeval is very willing to talk about evisceration, tendons and muscles being ripped apart and so on. And there’s a pretty high body count from dinosaur attacks, explosions, shootings, throat cuttings and more. I think I even went a little pale at times.
Curiously, Savile is also reticent about bringing the dinos to centre stage. While he peppers the beginning of the story with a couple of attacks, it’s not really until two-thirds of the way through the story that Cutter and co get to meet the kritter. He fills this prep time with a curious combination of spy and soldier stuff, thanks to the SAS red shirts, as well as "author’s over-research syndrome". In case you’re unaware of the tragic condition, it’s when an author has done a hideous amount of research and, not wanting to waste it or because they need to hit a certain page count, he or she dumps it all on the page. There are pages of native guides discussing the destruction of the Amazonian rain forest, pages of Connor spewing forth all his research on the old gods of the Incas, even two whole paragraphs devoted to Connor’s MP3 mix choices and one on the tracks available on the in-car tape player available to Team Cutter.
I’m not sure how much it stands up to scrutiny, though. The sheer amount of detail about Peru, including little nuggets like the fact they have white taxis there, makes me think Savile’s probably been there; yet for all the loving detail paid to the SAS guys, even the most casual of Andy McNab readers would find issues with it (why for instance would ‘Stark’ need to have been with the Gurkhas in Cambodia to have jungle warfare experience when an SAS’s initial training includes jungle warfare tactics in Malaysia and Brunei?).
Still, all this research does mean one thing, at least: Cutter and co actually seem like they might have been to university. While the early evening, kiddie slot on ITV1 means that long words are almost verboten on the TV show, Connor, Cutter, Steven and Abby gas on about isoprenoids; Jenny muses about the Aristotelian concept of the soul; even the SAS guys are quoted from Shakespeare.
Of the main characters, Abbie gets very little to do except tend wounds and bicker with Connor; Stephen ends up with even less personality and action-time than he does on-screen (I even forgot he was there for a while), But Cutter, Connor and Jenny get a reasonable number of paragraphs each and come out of it relatively rounded. However, Cutter gets the lion’s share of the book and spends most of it moping after Jenny and generally being dour.
Nevertheless, the book races along at a good clip, once it gets over its initial tussle with a thesaurus:
The rainforest spoke with the tongues of Peruvian devils… the place was alive with the constant chittering of insects; the deep-throated rumbles of the yellow-backed toads; the raucous caws of the colourful birds…the scuttle of tuco-tuco, sloths and opossum through the thick vegetation; the slithering of the lachesis muta through the thick grasses; the soft susurrus of the leaves…
Description is minimal after that initial phase, except where it serves to demonstrate research. Dialogue is mostly pretty good, except where Savile gets bitten by the purple prose bug (p158, for example, has this classic from Cutter: "You are a good man, Connor Temple. You’ve got a good heart. But this, this goes beyond heart and courage into a world of injustice that even the biggest heart can’t conquer.")
But most of the time, Savile paints a convincing portrait of Peru and a bunch of rubbish action heroes but not bad scientists seriously out of their depth among Bad People. If you enjoy an action story, this ain’t bad and if you’re looking for something for a teenager, particularly a teenage boy, this would probably go down well. It also hints at some of the untapped possibilities of the show that time slot and budget prohibit it from doing.
As mentioned, now’s your chance to win an actual, honest-to-goodness prize. Since this was a review copy sent to me by Titan and I don’t have much of a use for it anymore, the prize is a lovely pristine review copy of Primeval – Shadow of the Jaguar. I’ll post it to you and everything (so only UK readers are eligible for entry since my largesse has limits).
All you have to do is leave an amusing comment below – preferably Primeval related and avoiding anything along the lines of "Doyouthinkhesaurus". The most amusing comment, which will be arbitrarily chosen by me on 16th April 2008, will win the book. I’ll announce the prize on the blog, so don’t forget to include your email address when leaving the comment – it won’t be published, don’t worry – so that I can let you know you’ve won and get a postal address off you. Good luck!