WARLOCK is a collection of so many disparate ideas and strands that it stands as a real credit to Andrew Cartmel's skills and abilities that he not only wove them all together astoundingly well, but also managed to create a book that was engrossing, absorbing and absolutely unputdownable. It's another tome in his canon of bleak futures and stories where the Doctor is more a force of nature than a guy who bothers showing up in books that have his name on the cover. But its depressing nature is never gratuitous or overly unpleasant. I wouldn't like to see a whole series of Doctor-less Doctor Who books (the little fellow shows up even less frequently here than in Cartmel's previous book, WARHEAD), but when an individual story is done as expertly as this one is, that is a detraction I am more than willing to accept.
The plot is a bit of a mish-mash when summarized, but it works amazingly well in execution. There's a strange new drug called Warlock in the neighborhoods of the not-too-distant future. The Doctor thinks there's something curious about it, so he sends Benny off to New York to investigate, while Ace wanders off into a sub-plot of her own involving hippies, sadistic henchmen, and animal testing. Some gangsters, drug-dealers, and a sizable dose of trippy prose all get added to the mix. Cartmel takes these pieces and hones them into a rollicking good read.
There's something wonderful about Cartmel's prose. Ace spends several pages simply pottering around the Doctor's house on Allen Rd and it's absorbing. One chapter is entirely devoted to one man being ignored and it's riveting. Four whole chapters are spent waiting for cops to bust some drug-dealers and it's absolutely electrifying. It's one of the bulkiest Doctor Who books published at 359 pages, and yet the words just speed by. How does he do it?
The characters again become something that Cartmel excels at drawing. Even relatively minor players are given intriguing back-stories and believable dialog. This is a more character-based story than WARHEAD was, which makes sense, given the more introspective nature of the storyline. The Warlock drug plays a heavy role in the plot, and many sequences revolve around the effects that it has on the minds of the users. These sections contain a lot of great writing, with the paranoia and other effects produced by the drug being very realistically portrayed. The portions of the story where characters attempt to navigate their way through the mind-bending and bizarre qualities of the Warlock drug were far and away my favorite parts. The things that Cartmel does here are quite chilling.
There are some minor flaws. One of the themes running through the book would appear to be that scientific testing on animals is immoral and wrong. Whereas, all I got out of it was that scientific testing on animals is immortal and wrong if undertaken by a bunch of sadistic and maladjusted bullies. Cartmel has occasional bouts of playing too heavy-handedly with his themes, which would be enough to derail a lesser book, but isn't an unpardonable sin here. He also rushes the plot a bit at the end, which is excusable given the amount of stuff that he has going on, but also odd when one considers the large page count. It would be greedy of me to wish for an extra fifty pages at the end to give the story a smoother conclusion, but a four hundred page WARLOCK is something I'd leap at the chance to read.
But these really are minor grumbles in a story that I hugely enjoyed. While WARLOCK is technically billed as a sequel to WARHEAD, everything you need to know from that book is explained here. So if you haven't read WARHEAD, it's safe to read WARLOCK. If you have read WARHEAD and enjoyed it, then I can definitely recommend WARLOCK. And if you haven't read either of them, then stop stalling, and get out there and read them both now. Yeah.