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Book Review

Book Cover

Bernice Summerfield
The Slender-Fingered Cats of Bubastis


Author: Xanna Eve Chown
Big Finish
RRP: £14.99
ISBN: 978 1 84435 635 5
Available 30 September 2012

Most archaeologists - including Bernice Summerfield - know only two facts about Bubastis. One is that its cheerless swamps are home to five giant stone cats, whose ancient origins are shrouded in mystery. The other is that it has more bugs and beetles than anyone should ever have to deal with. So when Bernice, Ruth and Jack arrive on the planet to search for a missing girl, they are unprepared for what they will find - like the insectoid villagers with a decidedly squeamish attitude to mammals, or the archaeological expedition made up of over-sexed students, led by the alarmingly unprofessional Neon Tsara. To make matters worse, Bernice has promised to write a book of poetry that’s due to be published in a week, and she can’t think of anything to rhyme with ‘Bubastis’...

This accompanying book to the latest Bernice Summerfield audio box set, Legion, spotlights the same three main characters: Bernice, Ruth, and the latest addition to the series, the red-eyed, pointy-eared Jack. Bernice’s son Peter does not appear, though Irving Braxiatel is mentioned. It is not vital to have heard the audios in order to enjoy the book, or vice versa, though I found it helpful to listen to at least some of the box set first, in order to remind myself about Jack’s character. I would place the events of this book between Shades of Gray and Everybody Loves Irving in the box set: the trio are working together, as they did in Shades of Gray, but there is no mention of the revelations made at the end of Everybody Loves Irving.

The Slender-Fingered Cats of the title are a fascinating concept, as is their insect-dominated setting, though initially the story seems to have more to do with an old friend of Bernice who informs her that she must write a book of poems - and fast. What have verses to do with a world of insects? As the interplanetary word historian Professor Bil Bil Gloap explains, he landed his job at the Star Seasons Leisure Resort and Research Facility owing to an ironic mix-up over the terms entomology and etymology.

As you may have guessed by this point, Xanna Eve Chown’s novel involves plenty of humorous elements, including snooty server robots, insectoid creatures with phobias about mammals, a highly unconventional archaeologist and a group of lethargic students - some of whom remind me of the vacant Sam and Ben from the sitcom Lead Balloon.

Excerpts from fictional writing - everything from academic papers to illiterate blogs - separate the chapters. Initially these appear to be mere embellishments, but eventually they have bearings upon the plot, particularly regarding the brain-ache that Ruth experiences after absorbing too much dangerous historical knowledge. This device is something that the book has in common with its prose predecessor, The Weather on Versimmon, in which bracketed thought processes seemed pretentious at first, but ultimately proved to have a connection with Ruth’s mental state.

There are no catty comments from me about this book, which is well worth getting your fingers on, slender or otherwise.


Richard McGinlay

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