Review: Primeval – Shadow of the Jaguar

Read the review and win a copy

Primeval: Shadow of the Jaguar

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.

Rating: 6/10

Competition time
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!

  • OK brain not in gear just yet for the clever competition. Actually I may pass on that as it’s not my forte…
    But in answer to your question, with my editorial hat on and on the dubious premise that once upon a time I really was a children’s book editor, I think the following things may apply:
    1) Titan tend to do graphic novels, so this is appealing at their market. ie, Conor type geeks. (with apologies to graphic novel readers, I happen to like them, but that is their core readership, sorry…) It does allow them to go all grown up and aggressive. But usually it works the other way round, as in Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles which were not nearly so cuddly in the original
    2)Sounds like a fairly typical book-from-tv. You say the writer sounds as if he would rather be writing something else. He probably does. I did lots and lots of tv-tieins and frankly they are soul destroying to work on. You know the real creativity and fun has gone into making a tv programme, producing a book from it just feels like second best. The ONLY tie in I can think of that stood up on its own merits was actually a novelisation of a film: My Girl. Can’t remember the author. Have never seen the film, but the book made me cry (and not with horror as did so many dire tie ins I worked on).
    3)They may have muddled their market and it might appeal to no one. My sprogs would likely read a Primeval comic (in fact, note to self, I think they might already have), but suspect they would be less interested in a book. We have Dr Who annuals and a couple of books, but they are less interested in them for the reasons mentioned above.
    Tie ins are a funny old market. You’re normally in and out to make a quick buck. It seems strange this should come out now, unless it’s out to tie in to the release of the DVD. They’d have got much more mileage when it was on tv. But then it doesn’t sound like this is going to appeal to the core audience, so maybe that doesn’t matter to them.

  • Apparently, “Steven Savile is a highly respected media tie-in writer who was nominated for the International Media Tie-In Writer’s SCRIBE Award in 2007 for his novel Slaine: The Exile. He was runner-up in the British Fantasy Awards in 2000, and won the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Award in 2002. He has written extensively for the high profile properties Star Wars, Warhammer (Black Library), Dr Who and Torchwood as well as his own fiction.”
    I don’t think that Titan are going for a quick buck here. The quality is too good and the price too low.
    I actually liked the novelisation of the 80s Flash Gordon movie, because it was so mentally off its head. It had Ming telling his daughter, “Daughter, I feel we have not been so close of late. We should take off all our clothes and whip each other.” I’m not sure that’s the exact quote, but it’s pretty close…

  • I think that the various Dr Who ranges have raised the bar somewhat for UK sf tie-ins, both in terms of the need for better writing and the actual look and feel of the books. That said, the amount of gore in this one makes it sound less like the new RTD Who-style books and more like the much-missed Virgin/BBC lines.
    I should really try and think of something witty since I’ll likely buy the book for my eldest (who loves Primeval) but there’s just too much pressure…

  • I’m too nervous to comment now in case I accidentally say something witty and win the book, which I don’t want.

  • MediumRob

    That amuses me greatly. Oops.
    Actually, if no one wants it, I’m going to charity shop it so that it can do some good, at least.

  • Steven Savile

    I vote you give it to Marie… if my vote counts heh.
    The only thing I’ll pick up on is the Gurkha thing, which bugs me because that was cut between first and second draft and shouldn’t have been in there because it’s factually inaccurate. I guess there was a second reference that was missed. Bugger.
    Anyway, least you didn’t say it was crap 🙂

  • Steven Savile

    And as to being highly respected, don’t believe a word they say on the advertising hype 🙂

  • That’s a pain – sorry to hear it! Editors, hey?
    Don’t worry, Steve, it’s not crap – it’s actually pretty good, much better than I was expecting, certainly.
    And for a point you made elsewhere, I’m 35 now so a tad squeamish. At 14, I could have taken it and revelled in it a bit; at 10, I’d probably have had issues with it – that’s the great circle of life for you.

  • Steven Savile

    No problem at all – I think you nailed it with the last para though – it’s got a target audience – 14 year old guys, and it’s pretty specifically aimed. As a result it isn’t meant to be overly deep, but hopefully gripping. It’s always going to be difficult because the show has adult fans, and really young fans, but the young ones are catered for by the Puffin releases…
    And like I said elsewhere, I’ve got no issues with the review at all… even if I chuckled at the squeamish stuff. If I shared some of the secrets behind the writing, like the deadlines, as a writer yourself I’m pretty sure you’d feel doubly squeamish 🙂
    I certainly agree with you, Titan have pulled no punches quality-wise – you’re getting a good amount of bang for the buck, so to speak.
    Anyway, the charity shop’s a good idea – or if you are in a decent sized city, the old book crossing thing where you leave it on a seat with a note saaying you’ve released it into the wild … and more seriously thanks for a serious review of the story instead of an ‘oh it’s a tie-in, it inevitably sucks’.

  • Well, I think it’s right for the target market. I’m sure someone will want it though, once word spread. Maybe asking for an amusing comment was a bad idea.
    Tell you what, everyone, you can either try to amuse me or just make an impassioned plea as to why you should have the book.

  • [Rob, have I mentioned that I love you, lately?]
    I mean, I take any potential embarrassment about wanting this book (DH on the front cover: mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm) and I offer myself up to you thus.
    I LOVE the ‘purple prose’! I’m sorry, but my first thought in response to the quote you gave from Cutter was simply go fall into a slight faint at mentally hearing the delectable Scottish voice seriously uttering those lines!
    “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”
    Awh, come on! Doesn’t it make your heart beat a little faster thinking of him saying that?
    Just me?
    (flutters non-flirtatious eye-lashes in Rob’s direction as he KNOWS I will give the book a good home – even as he will criticise me for not having bought it already. What can I say: it’s been a rough year…)

  • Hurrah! At last your site has learned to remember me again!

  • MediumRob

    We aim to please. How’s Bloglines working out for you? I now ping it when I add a new entry and it seems to be showing everything (almost).

  • Present and correct on bloglines. Not sure about the auto-recall on my details here at the office….

  • Ah-ha! It’s worked! Ta much.

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