Having finally watched Babylon 5 for the first time (check out my posts for that series at my Babylon 5 Hub), I decided to dive into the novels. I’ll be reading them largely in publication order and reviewing them individually as we go along. Please do not spoil later books for me. There will be SPOILERS for the book reviewed going forward.
To Dream in the City of Sorrows by Kathryn M. Drennan
Tie in novels are tough. They have a number of major tasks set before them, from pleasing fans of whatever the “main” series is that they draw upon, to being good enough for random people at the bookstore to perhaps give them a try, to not “ruining” the voice or characters of the original media. So far, a lot of the Babylon 5 novels have been mediocre. To Dream in the City of Sorrows absolutely delivers the goods, however.
There are basically three major plots in the novel. The first follows Jeffrey Sinclair as he becomes the ambassador to the Minbari and is caught up in the development of the Rangers. The second is about Catherine Sakai, Sinclair’s love interest from the series who eventually joins the Rangers herself. Finally, we have perhaps my favorite character in the series, Marcus Cole, given a kind of origin story for how he joined the Rangers as well.
Yes, this novel is very Ranger-centric, and in my opinion that’s a good thing. It allows Drennan some capacity to move around the universe without the confines of the station, and it also gives us more insight into the formation, training, and recruitment of the Rangers. I go into novels like this hoping for impactful story that will have some kind of relevance to the show, and Drennan delivers that. While we knew Marcus joins the Rangers, we knew very little about his apparently tragic backstory. Here, we learn all about it and his motivations for joining the Rangers. We knew Sinclair went back to Babylon 4 and helped with the Rangers, but not a lot about how he got to that point. His story, along with Sakai’s, helps resolve some of those burning questions as well.
I wasn’t as interested in Sakai’s story as I was in the others, but the way it gets tied into the end of the novel and certainly into broader Babylon 5 canon and the show is superbly done. It gives plausible backstory without ever feeling like it’s taking over or going against the “official” plot from the show.
To Dream in the City of Sorrows is the best of the nine Dell books from Babylon 5. There are plenty other novels to go, though, and I’m looking forward to finding out more about the Centauri and Psi Corps in trilogies about those groups! Follow the blog, and let me know in the comments what you think!
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I’m not a fan of tie-in novels to begin with. Despite Michael Moorcock & Elizabeth Hand being favorite writers, I’ve never read the former’s Dr. Who tie-in (the ONLY Moorcock that I’ve never read) or the latter’s Boba Fett novels. But, even if I was, it would never, ever occur to me to pick up a tie-in novel for a property that I was not already familiar with. The authors of these novels would love it if the uninitiated picked up their books, but I find that unlikely. Of course, maybe that’s just me! I did get introduced to Discworld from the Hogfather TV adaptation and went on to read the entire series, so one never knows.