Television in Book Form: A Review of the Serial Bookburners

Bookburners (2017)
Written by: Max Gladstone, Margaret Dunlap, Mur Lafferty, and Brian Francis Slattery
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Pages: 787 (Hardcover)
Publisher: Saga Press/Serial Box

Why I Chose It: I’ve previously enjoyed works by a couple of the authors involved in Bookburners. That, and I find the concept behind Serial Box to be really interesting (more on that below!).

The premise:

The critically acclaimed urban fantasy about a secret team of agents that hunts down dangerous books containing deadly magic — previously released serially online by Serial Box, now available in print for the first time!

Magic is real, and hungry. It’s trapped in ancient texts and artifacts, and only a few who discover it survive to fight back. Detective Sal Brooks is a survivor. She joins a Vatican-backed black-ops anti-magic squad—Team Three of the Societas Librorum Occultorum — and together they stand between humanity and the magical apocalypse. Some call them the Bookburners. They don’t like the label.

Supernatural meets The Da Vinci Code in a fast-paced, kickass character driven novel chock-full of magic, mystery, and mayhem, written collaboratively by a team of some of the best writers working in fantasy.

Spoiler free review below!

Discussion: I’ve recently become fascinated by the concept of serialized fiction. This is where a story is broken down into chunks and delivered to a reader, piece by piece, over time. And while this method of delivery has been out of fashion for a while, e-readers and our dwindling attention spans have revitalized our desire for smaller books. This includes novellas, novelettes, short stories, and serialized fiction.

An organization that has jumped on the serial train in a big way is Serial Box, who, for a subscription fee, will deliver a serial to your digital device of choice. Serial Box is unique because while other serials I’ve encountered are more of less a novel delivered a chapter at a time, Serial Box has structured their organization closer to a TV show. Each serial is created in a writers room, with a team of writers who break down and write a story in “episodes” (as opposed to chapters). These stories are then released in “seasons” (as opposed to novels). All that’s missing is well… the actual TV show.

As someone who enjoys television almost as much as I enjoy my fiction, I knew that I had to check this out. Unfortunately, while I like the concept of getting a new piece of fiction on my kindle each week, I ultimately decided that it just didn’t work for me, time-wise. Fortunately, much like television shows are eventually collected in box sets, Serial Box has begun collecting seasons of their serials in hardcover collections, put out by Saga Press. A perfect choice for binge viewers.

Which brings us to Bookburners.

Bookburners is an urban fantasy serial about a team of talented individuals who track down and destroy damaging demonic books for the Vatican. The writers for season one include Max Gladstone (author of The Craft Sequence), Mur Lafferty (The Shambling Guides), Philip K. Dick award winner Brian Francis Slatterly, and Margaret Dunlap (who wrote for The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a webseries that dominated my life for a full year). The first season consists of sixteen episodes (four by each writer) and the collection stands at just under a whopping eight hundred pages.

One thing that Bookburners does really well is capture the television watching experience in book form. The concept is similar to the popular “experts take on an ongoing otherworldly threat” trope (a la Warehouse 13 and The X-Files). Like many of these shows, you end up enjoying the book more for the likability of its characters and the resulting team dynastic, more so then the monster-of-the-week style plots. Former detective, Sally “Sal” Books is a worthwhile heroine. She is the new person on the team, pulled in by a personal conflict (her brother gets involved with demons). This makes her a very effective stand in for the reader. The deeper she plunges into this world of magic and demons, the more we do as well, resulting in some satisfying worldbuilding. I also enjoyed getting to know the other members of the team, their own unique back stories, and varied motivations.

At the same time, the flaws that tend to plague television shows of this nature also plague season one of Bookburners. At the beginning of the season especially, you can’t help but feel as if the writers are trying to figure the show out, making the book feel a little directionless at times. This means that it takes a few episodes for the season to get off the ground. Also, like a 13-episode Netflix series that probably would have been more satisfying at a slightly shorter length, I couldn’t help but look at the almost 800-page length of Bookburners and wonder if it really needed to be that long (Confession: I’m a bit biased, and believe that very few books actually need to be 800 pages long).

One interesting aspect of Bookburners being told as serialized fiction as opposed to an actual TV show is that, without the benefits of actors and directors, everything really is riding on the writing itself. This means that the difference in style of writing can be obvious from episode to episode, as opposed to a TV show, where things are much more streamlined. And sometimes, that worked fine for me. Other times, not so much. I know Max Gladstone has a lot of fans, but I don’t always mesh well with his style, meaning I didn’t get that excited to see his name on the title page of each one of his four stories. At the same time, I started to think over how little I look at the names of the writers (as opposed to actors and directors) that show up on my screen at the beginning of each episode of my favorite television shows. And how as a writer myself that’s kinda messed up. Perhaps an unexpected response of reading Bookburners is I’ll start appreciating TV writers more, or at least take a closer look at the role they play in the creation of my favorite shows.

In Conclusion: I’m not saying that season one of Bookburners is perfect, but it’s more than fun enough to make up for its flaws. I really enjoyed getting to meet our main cast of characters, and felt that the book had some nice twists. If you’re the type of person who enjoys TV shows about a team of experts dealing with the pitfalls of a supernatural world, then this book would certainly appeal to you. Looking for a new urban fantasy book series? Then why not check out a new type of reading experience. Yes, there are times when it drags, but ultimately, I was pleased with Bookburners. I look forward to checking out season two, as well as other serials put out by Serial Box.


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