BPP Novel 9: To Dream in the City of Sorrows

 
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This time we’re looking at the final novel in the set of nine (what people call) standalone novels: the much-anticipated To Dream in the City of Sorrows, by Kathryn M. Drennan. With what we already knew about this book, there was little concern about how good it was rumored to be. It was everything we’d expected and hoped for and/or remembered. Toward the end of the show, we mention that this was Raul’s third time reading the story over the years, it was Jim’s second, and JP’s first time through. It was unanimous that it was worth every minute of time spent to read it, or reread it.

As we’ve talked about each of the standalone novels, we’ve commented on whether or not each book is considered canon. In this case, it’s worth sharing this quote from J. Michael Straczynski himself: “To Dream in the City of Sorrows is not simply a licensed book set in the BABYLON 5 universe. While most of the Dell books to date have contained some elements that are considered canon, this is the very first one that is considered canonical in every small detail. What you hold in your hand is an official, authorized chapter in the BABYLON 5 story line. This is the definitive answer to the Sinclair question, and should be considered as authentic as any episode in the regular series.” (February 17, 1997)

There are really three stories here: the main story told about what happened when Jeffrey Sinclair left Babylon 5. The supporting stories, which are almost full stories on their own, revolve around Sinclair’s wife Catherine Sakai, and Marcus Cole.

The main story occurs primarily in the Minbar city of Tuzanor (also known as The City of Sorrows). The secondary story lines begin elsewhere but quickly join with the main story on Minbar as well. Sinclair is reassigned from Babylon 5 to Minbar as the Earth’s new ambassador. While there, he quickly learns there’s another, much more significant agenda in play: to make him the leader of the Rangers (Ranger One), and to bestow the title of Entil’Zah upon him. Though this story gain depth in our understanding of Minbari culture, the cultural casts, and how they view their history relative to Valen and his prophecies. We also see how the significant tensions between the Minbari and Humans is both stressed and eased by the Minbari need to address Sinclair’s potential, significant role within Minbari culture. Sinclair is pulled unknowingly and unwillingly into all of this through his nomination to become Entil’Zah.

Catherine, who has been away from Sinclair for longer than either would desire, returns to Babylon 5 to surprise him, only to be surprised herself when she learns he’s no longer the station commander and has moved to Minbar. She then follows him there. Through this story, we learn just how deep the love is between her and Sinclair. Once on Minbar, she supports this adventure he’s found himself pulled into, and works to become a ranger herself, as one of the first human Ranger trainees. A brief element of her story as she journeys back to her husband is her encounter with the essentially unknown Shadows in hyperspace.

Marcus, who is a mess after his father’s death, has thrown himself into running his father’s business. He doesn’t appear to enjoy it or want to do it, all the while taking great risks with his own life, perhaps in order to somehow distract or diminish the pain of his loss. His vagabond brother arrives for a visit, get’s lectured by Marcus for not helping run the family business, and ends up learning about the thing that has focused his wayward life: becoming a member of the Minbari Rangers. Marcus initially dismisses it all as one more stray adventure and useless path his brother is running down; his brother ensures him this isn’t the case, but Marcus seems unconvinced. Shortly after, when his brother’s life is lost in an attack (turns out by the Shadows) on and loss of the family business, Marcus decides to honor his brother’s request to consider the Rangers, and makes his way to Minbar. What unfolds is a wonderful description of how Marcus becomes the man, and the Ranger we knew him to be in the regular series.

We were all in agreement that this novel clearly stands out as the best of the standalone stories. We anticipate it will remain one of the best, even when compared to the three trilogies that also occur in the Babylon 5 universe. Our ratings were a 5, 5 and 5 (out of 5), giving us an overall Boom Scale rating of 5.0.

Speaking of trilogies, the next time we meet, we’ll discuss the first book in the Psi Corps Trilogy, called Dark Genesis: The Birth of the Psi Corps, by J. Gregory Hines. Our understanding of these trilogies is that they’re much better than the overall collection of standalone novels, so we’re looking forward to getting them started.

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Just remember… When there’s no boom today, there’s boom tomorrow. There’s always boom tomorrow!

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