The city-state of Varuz is failing. Duke Aurelian is the last of his line, his capital is crumbling, and the armies of his enemy, Duke Conrad, are poised beyond the mountains to invade. Aurelian is preparing to gamble everything on one last battle. So when a holy man, the Doctor, comes to Varuz from beyond the mountains, Aurelian asks for his blessing in the war.
Pg 10 On a steep slope in the city state of Varuz on an unnamed planet, time unknown.
Pg 225 Inside a secret tunnel, Varuz.
Pg 229 On a hillside outside the city.
Pg 233 In a quiet corner of Conrad's country.
Back in Varuz again (though we don't see it happen).
Pg 9 "The Doctor waved the sonic screwdriver around in an apparently random fashion." Fury from the Deep et al.
Pg 10 "'The TARDIS is a highly sophisticated machine. It's practically alive, Do you think it would just let itself fall off a hill?' [...] 'It wouldn't do too much damage,' the Doctor said, putting both feet firmly down again. 'It never has in the past.'" The Curse of Peladon et al.
Pg 52 "'You've not gone and accidentally sworn an oath to anyone or anything since we got here, have you?' [...] He gave her a sly look. 'You haven't accepted any drinks, have you?'" Reference to the Doctor accidentally getting engaged because of accepting a cup of cocoa in The Aztecs.
Pg 90 "In fact, the last time I met anyone claiming to be the Knights of King Arthur they turned out to be from another dimension." Battlefield.
Pg 220 "He is the Glamour!" The Doctor previously encountered Glamour technology in Ghosts of India and The Glamour Chase, where it was similarly ill-defined.
OLD FRIENDS AND OLD ENEMIES
NEW FRIENDS AND NEW ENEMIES
Bernhardt, Guena, Mikhail, Conrad, Lucinda, Emfil.
The Glamour reappears in Deep Time and Big Bang Generation.
PLUGGING THE HOLES [Fan-wank theorizing of how to fix continuity cock-ups]
FEATURED ALIEN RACES
Pg 17 It's not clear if the people of Varuz are aliens of human colonists in the future. But they look human enough, since the Doctor and Clara can pass among them.
Pg 25 Emfil is yet another alien who looks human, although we never learn where from. Or maybe he's human; who knows, because the book never bothers to tell us.
Pg 218 The Glamour is some sort of alien light, which is here masquerading as a person. It's unclear whether it's sentient or not.
Pg 220 The Knights are from offworld, although again it's frustrating unclear where. Or whether they're human or not.
Pg 14 Emfil's ship.
Pg 25 The city state of Varuz, on an unnamed planet, time unknown.
IN SUMMARY - Robert Smith?
It starts off as bog-standard court intrigue set in faux-medieval times. The planet is never named. The timezone is never specified. There's an alien collector from who-knows-where. Alien knights turn up, being from the species your-guess-is-as-good-as-mine. The back cover tells us this is the first in a trilogy... without letting us know where to find the other two. So it looks like the laziest New Series Adventure yet, which is really saying something. And then, suddenly, it gets good. The second half is gripping and clever, with a backstory that turns out to be very clever. The Doctor is great, with some very Capaldi putdowns, while Clara is generic but acceptable. After the early focus, it's slightly bizarre that Aurelian dies in a battle that's simply described distantly to us, when, oh I don't know, that might have been exciting to read about or something. But having the underdog city simply lose to a greater threat is kind of amusing, in an inverting-the-Doctor-Who-cliches way, and far more realistic. It's too bad there wasn't an editor at the wheel, as this could have been one of the greatest novels yet. As it is, against all expectations, it's still pretty good.