Una McCormack



232pp/$24.95/November 2021

Cover by Natasha MacKenzie

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Una McCormack becomes the third author to take control of the Firefly universe in the series of novels published by Titan Books with Carnival, a look at what the crew of Serenity were up to in between the epideosf "The Message" and "Heart of Gold." While the book's title may indicate that the spaceship's crew is going to get some much needed rest and relaxation, the constant need for money and the crew's natural talent for getting involved in shenanigans means that nothing can be easy.

Captain Mal Reynolds accepts a job from Jacob Roberts, the head honcho on the planet Bethel, to help him get some minerals off planet. Mal has a long history of accepting jobs and asking questions later, which wouldn't be a problem if those questions never arised, but invariably his lack of interest in what he is transporting comes back to bite him and his crew. When the cargo is stolen from Mal, Jayne, Zoe, and Book during its transportation, Zoe and Book are captured and Mal is informed that he must repay Roberts the cost of the job and materials in an unreasinably short period of time.

McCormack splits the crew up into different groups, with Simon going off to take a job at the local Companion Guild run hospital to help raise some money with Inarra's help as a reference. Kaylee attempts to find work around the docks as a mechanic, and Jayne, Wash, and River find themselves heading to a casino to see if River's various strange powers can be used to raise the money needed. McCormack also tosses in the story of a fourteen-year-old girl who has arrived in Bethel's major city, Neapolis, just in time for Carnival, but looking for a job. This original character, Ava, proves to be the key to the entire story. Through the various groups, McCormack provides the reader with all the details to figure out what the crew of Serenity has gotten involved in long before the characters are able to piece it together.

While the earlier novels in the series, like Life Signs have been firmly within the realm of Whedon's universe, Carnival takes on the very real issue of human trafficking. However, this isn't the first time Firefly has dealt with the topic. Mal demonstrated his disgust with human trafficking in the pilot episode, "Serenity" and Shepherd Book referred to "a very special level of hell" when it appeared Saffron had been trafficked in "Our Mrs. Reynolds."

McCormack picks up elements from some of the earlier episodes and weaves them into the narrative in a natural way that doesn't feel like fanservice. When Zoe and Book are taken hostage, Wash is very concerned about their well-being, especially Zoe's ears, given that it hasn't been that long since Wash was taken hostage by Adelai Niska, who cut of one of Mal's ears. The trauma of the event clearly impacted Wash in a realistic manner. Similarly, the discovery that Jayne tried to sell out Simon and River in the episode "Ariel" comes into play with Simon concerned over how much he can trust Jayne and Mal hinting that he is aware of the situation.

Most of the characters hit the right notes in their dialogue and characterization, with McCormack really managing to capture Shepherd Book quite well, although she spends the most time exploring Simon. Her version of Simon is well aware of how awkward he is around Kaylee and knows that he is constantly screwing up by saying the wrong thing. However rather than spending time and energy trying to figure out how to make things right, he is more focused on his need to protect River, something very much in keeping with who the character is.

Carnival is the shortest of the novels so far released by Titan Books, and it would have benefited by being beefed up in a couple of areas, but McCormack has managed to capture the feeling of the show and the characters. The plot moves along quickly and McCormack trusts the reader to figure out what is going on, allowing the characters to learn things at their own rate, and focusing on how things will play out rather than throwing in red herrings and misunderstandings. If the good guys who help the main characters are a little too good and the bad guys are a little underdevelopeed, it doesn't really impact the enjoyment of the novel.

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