The cancellation earlier this year of the science fiction series Primeval by Britain’s ITV network was one of the worst decisions in recent television history. The show was among the best fantasy series to come out of the UK since the revival of Doctor Who and will be missed in the Saturday evening schedules.

Although an American version of Primeval, and possibly a Hollywood film, are in the works, the original British characters will probably remain the favourites of the series’ many fans. Fortunately, these characters have been able to survive the cancellation of the show in a series of novels based on the series. These are published by Titan Books and the latest, Primeval – Fire and Water, is now in bookstores.

Primeval follows the adventures of a team of scientists  that investigates the appearance in modern day Britain of prehistoric and future animals. The animals arrive in the present through time portals called “anomalies”. The third season of the show ended on a cliffhanger in which the members of Anomaly Research Centre (ARC) team were stranded in the past. As a result of ITV’s decision not to renew Primeval, it doesn’t look likely that they will ever escape.

Primeval – Fire and Water is the fourth novel in Titan’s series, following on from Shadow of the Jaguar, Extinction Event and The Lost Island (reviewed here). It is written by British science fiction author Simon Guerrier. Guerrier may be a familiar name to fans of Doctor Who because he has written novels, short stories, comic strips and radio scripts based on that show.

Primeval: Fire and Water is Guerrier’s first Primeval novel. The plot is partly inspired by a trip that he took to South Africa. That contributed to a story in which the action is split between the scorching heat of an African game park (the ‘Fire’), rain-soaked streets of Britain (the ‘Water’) and the prehistoric past.

Events in Primeval: Fire and Water take place during or after the second half of the TV series’ third season. The story therefore involves the regular cast from that period [SPOILER ALERT: skip TWO paragraphs ahead if you haven’t seen the third season and don’t want to know what happens]. Leading the ARC group is ex-cop Danny Quinn (Jason Flemyng). Quinn replaced the team’s original leader, Professor Nick Cutter (Douglas Henshall), after that character was killed off halfway through Season 3. Working alongside Quinn are long-time regulars Abby Maitland (Hannah Spearritt), Connor Temple (Andrew Lee-Potts), Sarah Page (Laila Rouass) and the British government’s overseer of the ARC project, Sir James Lester (Ben Miller).

In the novel, Danny and Lester are dispatched to South Africa to investigate the deaths of several Rangers at a safari park. The British government’s interest stems from the presence of a British-owned mining operation next to the park. It is no surprise that dinosaurs are feasting on the unfortunate park staff, but things prove to be far more complicated than Danny and Lester expect.

While the ARC’s two most senior staff are on safari, the remainder of the team is back home in London dealing with torrential rain and multiple dinosaur invasions. Ironically, the rain is helping to keep the creature incursions a secret because the resulting flooding is keeping people off the streets. Consequently (if rather unbelievably), there are no witnesses to the presence of prehistoric animals in public places.

Eventually these two storylines connect up via a third thread involving a conspiracy that strikes at the heart of the ARC. Getting to this point inevitably involves jumping between seemingly disconnected places and events as the story goes back and forth between subplots. As a result, the early chapters feel disjointed.  Once everything gets going, though, the story picks up pace. Guerrier keeps things interesting with several exciting passages and the final revelations are satisfying and only partially predictable. The main weakness is the story’s stereotypical villain. Guerrier has, however, written convincing representations of the TV series’ characters. He  also gives Lester the opportunity to break out of his officious civil servant persona and get in on the action.

Titan’s series of novels is an asset to the Primeval universe because it shows the flexibility of the concept underlying the show. The last novel, The Lost Island, was an action-packed affair from first to last chapter with lots of bloody battles between men (usually) and beasts. Although the final showdown in Fire and Water is full of gunfire and explosions, the rest of the book focuses on intrigue and mystery. This variability among the novels is in keeping with the series, which had mystery, action, pathos and humour.

Primeval – Fire and Water is an entertaining, undemanding entry in the Titan series that should satisfy fans of the series and anyone who wants to get a taste of what the show is about. It was a quick and enjoyable read that left me looking forward to the next novel. Hopefully that won’t be too long coming.

Michael Simpson is the Associate Editor of the Vancouver-based film and TV website and a freelance writer on a range of topics (Home Page).

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