In November of last year, Titan Books brought the Firefly franchise back to life in novel form, seemingly picking up right where the show left off (and before Serenity) with Big Damn Hero – absolutely nailing the feel of the television show from characterization to narrative pacing.
The series second installment, The Magnificent Nine, features much the same magic with a few alterations and a brand new story in our favorite universe.
Desert Planet Danger
The crew of Serenity is desperate for work when Jayne receives a hail from a old acquaintance from his far back past named Temperance. The two of them were more than professionally acquainted, if you catch my drift, until she up and disappeared for no apparent reason. Whatever the reason for her flight may have been, she’s in desperate need now as a gang of ruthless outlaw thugs is slaughtering their way through city after city on the planet Thetis where she’s made a home for herself.
The über violent Elias Vandal, who is rumored to have run with Reavers in his past, and his gang called the Scourers is moving from town to town commandeering local water sources and charging locals for it. Wherever they meet resistance, they lay siege to the inhabitants, forcing them to die of starvation or thirst, before razing the place to the ground. This fate is for all except those who’ll join their ranks…and women, for whom they have far more gruesome plans.
Upon arrival, Jayne finds out that Temperance has a daughter named Jane whose age is a perfect fit for the span of years between this meeting on Thetis and Temperance’s flight. The idea of being a dad motivates him to violence in defense of his new family in whole new ways, but he and the crew might have their match in the crazed Vandal.
They’re outnumbered and outgunned, the locals are useless, and they’ve got no way of getting off-planet since Serenity was shot right out of the sky upon breaking atmo. Situations like these will suck the optimism out of you faster than a hole in the hull in the vacuum of space.
The Magnificent Nine: Kill ‘Em Right Back
The Magnificent Nine came on a little stronger than Big Damn Hero on a couple of fronts, in my opinion, and mostly for the better if not for the pure utility of making it feel close enough to Big Damn Hero to not feel deviant while not straying so far as to feel like a violation of what we hold so dear concerning this ‘verse and its characters.
For one, the western elements in The Magnificent Nine feel like they’re turned up to eleven. Even the title feels a bit derivative (and probably intentionally so) of The Magnificent Seven. But you’ve got all sorts of added western flair throughout. Someone even gets lassoed – albeit from a space ship, which is even awesomer. This is a space western, after all, but not much takes place in space at all.
I also thought The Magnificent Nine featured if not more instances of humor then a greater quality of humor than Big Damn Hero. I laughed out loud on several occasions throughout, with possibly the greatest guffaw elicited by Jayne confusing analgesics for something you shoved up your bum; something he wanted no part of regardless of the pain he was in at the moment. And much of the humor is facilitated by excellence on the characterization front again. Many of the interactions are humorous because of well-established chemistries or antisynergies between crew members. So long as this series continues to carry this torch and carry it well, it will shine.
While I’m on the topic of characterizations, I had to share my favorite quote from the whole book which, I think, does such an amazing job of coloring Mal. When faced with the daunting and impossible scenario I described above, Temperance challenges Mal’s optimism when he says there’s got to be some way to turn everything around. Mal’s response:
I fought at Serenity Valley. It ain’t about optimism. It’s about doin’ what’s right even when everything’s stacked against you.pg 143
I may or may not have pumped my fist in the air after I read this.
I will also add that The Magnificent Nine features much more swearing, particularly in English, than I recall hearing on the show. Language in general doesn’t bother me, but the frequency of it in this book set in this ‘verse with these characters seemed off a bit in my view.
This book also details a bit more violence than I’m used to associating with the Firefly mediums. People don’t just get shot, it is described down to bits and pieces here and there. I’m certainly not lobbying for censorship or restricted artistic license; not by any means. As with the language, it isn’t the content so much as the franchise within which it is featured that made it feel strange. Could be that the language and violence factor in this one go juuuuust a tad outside of house style from my perspective?
Regardless, The Magnificent Nine is more Firefly stories! There is much to be celebrated regarding that alone. And it is more than “just” a Firefly story, it is a good Firefly story. Titan Books is two for two as far as I’m concerned. And there is something to be said for a series that is operating on a sort of “one shot,” episodic format wherein each book’s narrative is relatively self-contained, they are doing a killer job of leaving you wanting whatever comes next.
A Wild Guess
The Magnificent Nine hit on Inara’s spoken intention to leave Serenity a couple of times. While these books aren’t connected in a “to be continued” kind of way, there is a shared narrative amongst them and the television show’s episodes. This has me thinking that her decision will come to a head in a future book.
While I reflexively want to think that she’ll change her mind because we all love the status quo of the crew, I’m not sure that necessarily makes for the best narrative moving forward. If I remember correctly, Joss Whedon is outspoken about his opinion that characters should always be in danger of dying, like for realsies (my words, not his), or you lose all sense of tension when danger presents itself because they’re all ultimately and inviolably safe. I wonder if that philosophy applies to characters moving on…or characters moving in.
If Inara does leave, how will that affect Mal? How does the loss of her “ambassador” utility affect future jobs? Will we ever see another regular passenger and crew member that we could come to love? I’m not against exploring the answers to these questions in future books.
While we wait to see how this particular plot unfolds, catch up on The Magnificent Nine by ordering it from Amazon here, and if you missed out on Big Damn Hero, we’ve got you covered on that front, too!
[Disclosure: Nerds on Earth received a review copy of The Magnificent Nine from Titan Books in exchange for an honest review.]