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Three books in to the Dell series, and we’re already seeing the same author again. I realise media tie-in novels aren’t that prestigious, but surely it’s not that hard to scrounge up three different authors?

On the plus side, Vornholt’s writing has improved somewhat since ‘Voices’. If nothing else, he’s learned to hold back on the exclamation points! Which is a nice change! Admittedly, I suspect most of the improvement has more to do with Vornholt having more time to write the story than he did with ‘Voices’ – both of the first two Babylon 5 novels were riddled with editing errors and ‘Voices’ in particular felt like it could have done with a couple extra drafts.

‘Blood Oath’ doesn’t have the problem the first two novels had of being a little too disconnected from the interesting parts of the B5 setting; most of the novel is set on the Narn homeworld and the main character is G’Kar. That’s right – G’Kar gets to be on the cover and in the novel itself! Seriously, though, it’s nice to get some descriptions of the Narn homeworld and society; the series itself never visited Narn until after the Centauri bombardment and even then only briefly, and besides some details on Narn religion we never really got much context into how the Narn regime was organised.

There are some details of Vornholt’s interpretation of the Narn that I’d quibble with, but most of what he comes up with works fairly well in the context of the series. Narn does seem to have an excess of un’necessary apost’rophes, but that’s a problem with the series as well, so I’ll let it go.

The downside is while the worldbuilding is fairly well done, the actual story is a mess. Basic outline: The relatives of G’Kar’s old rival Du’rog (mentioned in “The Parliament of Dreams”) have organised another assassination attempt against him. G’Kar responds by faking his own death and going undercover to the Narn homeworld to try and resolve the situation. Alright, that’s a good story, and G’Kar having to deal with the fallout from his more ruthless past ties in nicely with his character growth in season two.

The problem, unfortunately, is that this isn’t just a G’Kar story. Now, I don’t know if Vornholt was told he had to have a human protagonist or just didn’t feel up to writing a story entirely about Narn characters, but for whatever reason, Ivanova and Garibaldi end up on the Narn homeworld for most of the story too. Theoretically they’re there for G’Kar’s memorial service – Earth apparently doesn’t have an embassy on Narn – but that excuse gets mentioned maybe twice. Garibaldi – yes, this is the third book of three where he’s a main character – seems to be mainly interested in investigating G’Kar’s ‘death’. Ivanova… doesn’t seem to have any reason to be in the book in the first place.

And that’s really the problem with the book. I’d have expected the main problem with someone writing a G’Kar focused story in early season two would be that they’d paint him as a straight villain, ignoring his development since the start of season one. Vornholt manages to avoid this, but seems to then go too far the other way; G’Kar himself is reasonably well characterised, but his relationships with other characters are completely off – human characters treat him as a trusted ally and long-time friend. If I didn’t know when this was written, I’d assume Vornholt was thinking of G’Kar in the late fourth or fifth season. Garibaldi in season two, though, does not consider G’Kar a friend. He’s not going to like someone successfully assassinating someone on his station, but once he finds out G’Kar isn’t dead – and he does, before even reaching Narn – he’s not going to go out of his way to help him.

Oh, and there’s also a third human character, a trader who lives on Narn who tags along with Ivanova and Garibaldi for no clearly explained reason – Garibaldi agrees to this, because Michael Garibaldi is practically defined by his trusting nature, right? He does nothing of interest for the entire story and feels rather like someone’s Mary Sue that’s been stripped of all their Sue-ish qualities, reducing them to the blandest most useless character ever. I have no idea what he’s doing in the story other than irritating me.

On the plus side, the book does give Na’toth a big role, so that’s always nice.

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David Newgreen

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