Review by Murray Smith
After flicking through this work, I bought it knowing that it would be an intriguing and interesting read, and was certainly not disappointed. The author took a novel approach, involving an interesting alternate history variation on what has been called by Kathryn Andersen 'character insertion'. Unlike crossovers, or making the B7 characters go backwards or forwards in time in their own universe, this concept presumes, in the words of Neil Faulkner, that the B7 characters are 'readily transportable to other times and places'.
As someone who believes that the B7 characters are, to a significant extent, products of the particular socio-cultural factors of the period they were born into, I regard fanfiction based on this concept as unconvincing. Even though the characters might be similar in looks, and their names might also sound familiar, they are as different as the society into which they were born is from the societies depicted in B7.
'Renaissance' consists of a couple of novellas, 'Chiaroscuro' and 'Purgatorio', both set in Italy in the Renaissance and Baroque periods. The author gives us characters that are hybrids: characters of the period that have elements of B7 characters, suggested in many cases by their names and looks, as well as behaviour. Some of the characters are obvious adaptations of significant historical personages.
For example, Cerevello d'Avonici in 'Chiaroscuro' is a hybrid of Avon and Leonardo da Vinci. His speech is an interesting mixture of Avon's in the B7 series and of Leonardo's notebooks. There is a Ruggiero Blachiavelli, this time a hybrid of Blake and Niccolo Machiavelli. Vito Ricotti, the adopted son and pupil of Cervello, is a hybrid of Vila and Salai, a pupil of Leonardo's. In this novella, as well as in the second, the emphasis is on the characters partly based on Blake, Avon, and Vila, although other characters appear, based on the other B7 ones, introduced in interesting guises. For example, in 'Chiaroscuro', we meet a Moorish woman called Daina; and a character based on Vargas appears in 'Purgatorio' as a monk, later as a cardinal.
The stories are very interesting and are alternate history. (Another alternate history of the Italian Renaissance already exists, Paul J. McAuley's 'Pasquale's Angel' (1994), based on the premise that Leonardo's inventions were put into actual use, starting the Industrial Revolution three centuries early.) Ms. Holland has done her research very well, and the stories are so good, with such interesting endings, that I will not reveal them here. The dialogue is excellent, and the artwork, by Val Westall, is superb, particularly the sunset on p.45.
There was, for me, a problem with the work in that while the characters were intended to be hybrid, their looks and names, added to by Ms. Westall's artwork, made them to obviously B7 characters. The problem was made obvious in the treatment by the author of reincarnation.
A particular link between the two novellas is the fact that the characters with elements of Blake, Avon, and Vila in the second are reincarnations of the first, reincarnated in the _same_ kind of bodies. Unfortunately, I feel this to be too much of a coincidence. Personally, I have no problem with reincarnation in a story; a favourite book of mine, Nevil Shute's 'In the Wet' (1953), has the reincarnation of a person at its centre. A clergyman hears a dying man talk about the life of a named person three decades in the future; and he later has to baptise a baby born at the time that man died, who has the same name as that named person. This problem in 'Purgatorio' is again added to by the artwork. Again, the characters look like B7 characters, leaving aside variations of hairstyles and clothing.
To conclude, Ms. Holland's 'experiment', as she calls it, is well worth buying, and I would certainly encourage people to read it. The packaging is very attractive, and the dialogue between the characters is lovely. The problem is that it retains the same mistakes of a character insertion story, because in spite of trying to create hybrid characters, they are too much like the original B7 ones in looks and names, something encourages by Ms. Westall's artwork. The problem was added to by having characters in the first novella reincarnate in characters in the second that looked physically alike. In short, it made the B7 references too obvious, when more subtlety would have worked better.
A way to improve the story, making it more subtle, would be to change the appearances and names of the characters so as to remove the obvious B7 references, though I would not change the stories and dialogue. That would, I feel, make 'Renaissance' into a very good alternate history.
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Last updated on 28th of August 1999.