by Chris Tobias
In February of last year, Titan Books announced it would be publishing three new Firefly novels that would be set in the canon of Joss Whedon’s original television series, with Whedon himself serving as the consulting editor. The first of those books, Firefly: Big Damn Hero, was released in November of 2018, just in time for the holiday shopping season. The book was written by James Lovegrove, best known for his Age of Odin series and several Sherlock Holmes books, using an original story concept by Nancy Holder, who is well known to fans of Joss Whedon for her many original Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel tie-in novels. (When the books were first announced, Holder had originally been announced as the book’s author, but apparently somewhere along the line Lovegrove was assigned the task of writing the novel using Holder’s original concept.)
With two more Firefly novels scheduled to be released by Titan in 2019, you may be wondering if this first volume will pass muster with Browncoats throughout the ‘verse. Well, if you conjure you might like a fairly straightforward review of the first novel that avoids any spoilers that might damage your calm, this Browncoat is more than happy to oblige, so read on.
Firefly: Big Damn Hero sees the crew of Serenity once again entering into shady business dealings with Badger, the organized crime boss on Persephone that Mark Sheppard brought to life on the series. Badger wants Malcolm Reynolds and his crew to transport some very volatile crates of mining explosives to a buyer who is waiting for them off-world, and seeing as how Mal and his crew are desperate for the coin (as usual) they really have no choice but to reluctantly agree, even though the presence of the explosives on the ship makes everyone more than a little nervous, especially River. In the meantime, Mal arranges a meeting with another of Persephone’s local “businessmen” by the name of Hunter Covington in the hopes of picking up a side job. The meeting doesn’t quite go as planned (as if it ever goes smooth), and the end result is Mal’s disappearance, which leaves an injured Zoe assuming command of Serenity. Zoe and the crew have to find Mal and finish the job before the crates in Serenity’s cargo hold go “boom,” and in the meantime the captain has to face some demons from his past.
This novel is set before the events of the motion picture Serenity, and my overall impression was that it felt like a lost episode of Firefly. I think Lovegrove and Holder do an excellent job of capturing the spirit and personalities of the individual characters as well as the overall atmosphere of Persephone. The story tends to focus most heavily on four members of the crew: Mal, Zoe, Jayne and Shepherd Book, though the other crew members are each given their moments to shine. I especially liked the fact that Shepherd Book had a large role to play in this story, since he was often relegated to an ancillary role in the series (and had an even smaller role in the movie).
The novel explores the pasts of both Mal and Book, and introduces several new characters to the Firefly canon in the process. At first I wasn’t sure I was one hundred percent on board with some of the backstory in the book, especially Mal’s backstory from his days on Shadow before the war. But as Lovegrove developed the story, it felt more and more like it was in line with what Browncoats know Mal’s beliefs to be, and his actions seemed to be more justified.
Most of the time the dialogue is consistent with how one would expect the characters to talk, and unlike the Boom! Studios Firefly comics, the dialogue in this novel does include just the right amount of Chinese. The pacing of the story makes for an easy read, and the plot builds to a satisfying conclusion that is once again reminiscent of an episode of the original series.
If I have any criticism of the novel, it would be that I think Lovegrove sometimes tries too hard to include “Easter eggs” and references to the show. At times the name-dropping and reminders of the crew’s past exploits have the effect of pulling you out of the story for a spell, and in some moments when the exposition feels especially forced he comes dangerously close to violating the “show, don’t tell” rule of fiction writing. But I can say I really don’t recall ever questioning the characters’ decisions or reactions to one another, and in that regard I feel the novel is superior to the Boom! Studios comics I’ve read so far.
As with any episode of Firefly, when I was finished with the book I was a little sad to see the story end, and I’m already looking forward to the next book in the series, Firefly: the Magnificent Nine, which is due out in March. (In fact, I’ve already pre-ordered myself a copy.) If I had to give this first novel a grade though, I’d say it straddles the line between B+ and A-. I would certainly recommend it to any Browncoat who is in search of more exploits of the crew of our favorite Firefly-class transport ship.
Firefly: Big Damn Hero is available from major book retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The hardback edition comes with an attractive dust cover and its own built-in bookmark, and has a cover price of $22.95. I hope you find it as shiny as I did.
Peace, love and rockets…