The Fall of Yquatine
The Fall of Yquatine is an unprepossessing book after the shocks and melodrama of The Shadows of Avalon. It presents itself as a traditional space opera, yet that hides a rather more complex plot introducing us to a new Compassion. The Fall of Yquatine is very much a tragedy at heart. A light first chapter may read more like a Mills & Boon (a good one, I should point out), but Nick Walters is more of a modern-day Jim Mortimore. Even the initial author's note on the planet's seasons seems ironic given the events to come.
The main plot is quite 'trad', but don't let the horrors inflicted on us by some worse authors put you off that label. Walters presents a strong alien environment in which to set his tale, although perhaps relying more on cliche than Dominion and Dry Pilgrimage. But The Fall of Yquatine isn't about alien worlds and space battles. It's about how good intentions can have bad outcomes. It's about facing up to the random events that life throws at us and it's something of a surprise which character makes the best choices and learns to cope with the vagaries of fate... and of other people's choices.
It's also a book about differing perspectives. Arielle is a xenobiology student, interested in how we perceive other species, and there is a running theme in the book contrasting different people's perceptions of the same things. At its simplest level, Walters has each of the main characters describe the many alien races of the Yquatine system and those descriptions reflect back each character's background. At a more complex level, the book draws many parallels between Vargeld and our regular cast: between how the Doctor treats Compassion and how Vargeld treats Arielle; then between Vargeld and Compassion; and also between the Doctor and Compassion.
We see Vargeld from a number of angles: from the Doctor's, Fitz's, Compassion's, Arielle's, his own. He's a tragic figure, but the reader is left uncertain whether to hate or pity him in the end. Interestingly, Walters avoids presenting an omniscient view, or using the Doctor in that role. The reader must make their own choices, with no-one in the book able to see the big picture.
Fitz in all this serves the familiar role of a companion, grounding the adventure, the wonder that is Compassion and the complexities of a plot spanning space and time. There is also an irony that it is Fitz who is most aware of what is going on with the events and with the people, yet Fitz who is the most powerless to act.
Yet, while I enjoyed The Fall of Yquatine, I fear my description above sounds better than the real thing! I believe the central problem with the book is that it doesn't know what tone to take. Walters can be a subtle author, yet he sometimes crassly spells out a metaphor just made. He has difficulty maintaining a sense of doom or grief when it's needed. The ending tries to press the reset button and to shut all the Pandora's boxes opened by the events in the book. It's a book where you have to work hard to appreciate what Walters intended.
The Fall of Yquatine is both a more sophisticated book than its predecessor and a more flawed one. Excuse it its defects and I think it repays the faith placed in it, but you may be frustrated that it cannot fulfil its potential. 7/10
Henry Potts, 23 Mar 00
Originally posted to the Jade Pagoda mailing list.
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