It was March 2019 when I read and reviewed the first book of this new series which brings back the adventures of the Serenity crew after the premature termination of the TV show, and despite having promised myself that I would follow closely the new issues, I once again managed to take a trip on the road to Hell, paved with good intentions and missed books…
Better late than never, however, here I am with book 2, a novel that through the title (with its reference to The Magnificent Seven movie) and its cover (Jayne wearing the infamous hat seen in one of the episodes) showcases quite clearly Firefly’s successful mix of Wild West and Science Fiction, and promises to keep Jayne Cobb front and center in the story.
It’s business as usual aboard Serenity, what with not enough paying jobs, the ship needing costly repairs and the crew engaging in some squabble: the latest of these originates from River parading around wearing Jayne’s ridiculous hat and Jayne demanding bloody retribution – that is, until he receives a message from an old flame, asking for his help. Tethys is a dry, deserted world where only a few hardy settlers choose to eke out a meagre life, which is now jeopardized by a bunch of outlaws, calling themselves the Scourers: led by merciless Elias Vandal, the Scourers take possession of the area’s wells, exacting a price from the colonists for the water that should belong by right to the hard-working settlers, whose choices are either pay or be killed in the most brutal of fashions.
Temperance McCloud, Jayne’s old lover, begs him to come to her help and that of her fellow citizens, and the mercenary manages to overcome Captain Reynolds’ quite understandable objections – not that it takes much to wake up Mal’s inner Don Quixote. When Serenity lands on Tethys the situation looks even more critical: the crew is vastly outnumbered, and an attempt at resolving the issue through a duel sends Jayne to the infirmary, grievously wounded but still willing to do his best, particularly because of Temperance’s teenaged daughter, whose name is Jane and whose age raises well-founded questions about the identity of her father…
Even more than its predecessor, The Magnificent Nine recaptures the flavor of many Firefly episodes, with the crew of Serenity launching themselves into an adventure laden with unknowns and potential trouble, but doing it anyway because – no matter their outwardly skeptical approach to life – they are good guys and when push comes to shove their collective hearts are in the right place. Jayne Cobb’s character is the one who gets the spotlight here, as well as the inkling that his cynicism might not be as deeply rooted as he shows the world: of course he remains the usual coarse-mannered, selfish individual we all know and love (?), but there are moments when some chinks in that armor let us perceive a different kind of person who might be buried deeply inside the rude mercenary, someone who is capable of selfless gestures and integrity.
The rest of the Serenity’s crew (with one exception) feels no different from what we saw on screen and their interactions, the gallows-humor banter and the speech style all contribute to make this story look like a seamless addition to the handful of filmed episodes that were aired during the too-brief life of this show. The overall mood is on the same level as the series’, with seriousness and humor twining together to offer an adventure that can be both hair-raising and funny – that is, until some bits of dialogue happen to foreshadow the upcoming events of the movie Serenity, reminding us that some members of the crew will not accompany us for the whole screened journey, and adding a poignant quality to those sentences. The one that proved most painful for me was the mention of a certain character’s old-time instructor, who advised his pupils to learn how to “soar like a leaf in the wind”. Talk about sucker punches!
The only exception I mentioned above is River: in most of her interactions she acts and speaks in far too “sane” a manner that is in stark contrast both with her on-screen portrayal and with what we know about her and the appalling treatment she received in the Alliance’s “special school” where she was trained to be… something else. It’s a jarring divergence with all that we know and learned about River and a blemish on the overall characterization for this story.
The other issue I had with the novel was with some of the “bad guys”, because they fell into the trap of long explanations of their motives and intentions: these sections represented for me both an annoying trope and a slow-down of the otherwise fast pacing of the story, and in one specific case led to a too-swift and difficult to believe change of heart from one of the Scourers. It was, however, only a minor irritation, and it did not prevent me at all from enjoying the book or from wanting to move forward with the series.
If you are a Firefly fan, this book (and most probably the others in the series) is the best way to recapture the “magic” of the show and to keep the Serenity flying in our imagination.