Book review: David Llewellyn — Trace Memory (Torchwood)

Fifth Torchwood tie-in novel, and the middle one of the trio released for the second season. This one has a couple of references which place it late in second season, but no spoilers, and you don’t need to know anything but the basics about the universe to enjoy it.

Michael Bellini’s a Cardiff dockhand, part of a workgang waiting to unload a ship late one night in 1953. A ship whose cargo includes a crate marked “Torchwood”. A strange explosion leaves him in hospital, the only one of his mates to survive. But that’s not the worst of his worries. There are the men who say they’re from the union, but who are clearly government agents. They’re not nearly as frightening as the men in black suits and bowler hats, who aren’t men at all.

In the present day, a quiet Sunday in the Hub is interrupted by the intruder alarm. A young man has suddenly appeared in a locked room, and he’s riddled with a strange form of radiation. It doesn’t take long for the team to establish that he’s a local boy, but out of time. Not so strange for Torchwood, but there’s a twist — they’ve all encountered Michael before. Owen was a junior doctor, learning the necessary art of forgetting about his patients at the end of the day. Tosh was a little girl in Japan. Gwen was on her first day with a new partner, and somehow feeling as if it was her first day in the police force. Ianto was in his second week at Canary Wharf, making friends with another recent starter called Lisa.

And Jack? Well, Jack’s been with Torchwood a long, long time. His own encounter with Michael was out of hours, but he still knows something about Michael’s first encounter with Torchwood, and the alien artefact that sent Michael leaping through time. And a few more things besides.

This is a beautifully constructed novel, which uses Michael’s leaps back and forth through time to tell a solidly plotted story around Michael and the artefact, while giving some lovely backstory and characterisation for each of the main cast. Something I particularly liked is that we see the characters when they were younger, and in those scenes they feel like younger versions of themselves, before various things happened to them. There’s also some good characterisation in the present-day scenes. The nature of the book means that all of the main cast get a good share of the word count.

This is my favourite of the novels so far. That’s partly because it plays to things I like, but it’s also because it’s well written. And while the canonicity of the Whoniverse tie-in material is ambiguous, I think this one adds a little more depth to the Torchwood world, not just another monster-of-the-week story.

LibraryThing entry
Play.com
Book Depository

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