Tears of the Oracle

Justin Richards

Virgin New Adventures series, 1999
Much of Justin Richards' output in 1999 was written at short notice. As a competent author able to write quickly, he's often been called upon to plug gaps in the schedules at both BBC Books and Virgin. That some of his recent books haven't been particularly memorable is not surprising in the circumstances. That Tears of the Oracle should work so well perhaps is.

Tears... is yet another success in the Benny range. Ture, it is a book that could have benefited from another revision or two that the schedule didn't allow and the beginning is somewhat haphazard, but don't be lulled by this. Tears... is a very subtle book and may be Richards' most imaginative work since his debut. Tying together Dead Romance, Where Angels Fear and Walking to Babylon, with references back to Happy Endings and even, yes, Theatre of War, this is an important 'arc' book, yet it also stands alone as a strong personal story.

Tears... not only brings together many of the characters in the Benny universe, but it brings together many of the recurring themes in the series. What is real and how do our perceptions of reality differ? What is the nature of belief? What can the past tell us about the present and, as befits a series with time travel, what can the future tell us about the present?

Moreover, Richards avoids the dramatic time paradoxes and huge space battles that Lawrence Miles uses to explore similar ideas in books like Dead Romance and Interference. Tears... is very much a story about people, and people we have come to care about over the course of 19 books. The past is explored as archaeology and as diaries, the future as prophecy and prediction. The affairs of various Gods are seen through their effects on people (gods and People to be capitalised as required).

With the author and the reader knowing that the series could be ending soon and after the trauma of Where Angels Fear and Dead Romance, you really don't know what's going to happen in this book—even though much of the book is specifically telling you what will happen, if only one could understand the context. It's odd, but the blurb on Interference—"Soon, one of them will be dead; one of them will belong to the enemy; and one of them will be something less than human."—almost applies to Tears... as well.

If the future of the Benny New Adventures is unclear, Tears... gives one great faith that the future of the BBC Books in Justin's hands seems assured. 10/10

Henry Potts, 28 Oct 99

Originally posted to Jade Pagoda.

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