A Team Divided: The Serial Bookburners Goes Big and Small in Season Three

Bookburners: Season Three (2017)
Written by: Max GladstoneMargaret DunlapBrian Francis SlatteryAndrea PhillipsMur Lafferty
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Pages: The weekly serial has 13 episodes of approximately 50 pages each
Series: Bookburners
Publisher: Serial Box

Disclaimer: I received a copy of season three of Bookburners from the publisher, Serial Box. This was not done with the understanding that I would write a review. The fact that I received it for free will not impact my opinion/rating of the book.

Why I Chose It: I enjoyed the first season of Bookburners (my review is here), and really liked the second season (my review), so binging my way though season three was a no brainer.

The Premise: 

Things have changed for the Vatican’s magic-fighting Team Three: their forces are depleted, and internal rifts are coming close to tearing this close-knit group apart. But some things never change. Magic still threatens to overwhelm our world, and when a startling appearance from Menchú’s past reveals new dimensions to this danger, the team will have to reassess their loyalties-to their jobs, their beliefs, and even to each other.

This review is spoiler-free

When it comes to team-based stories, there are certain tropes that you’re bound to come across. The first major one being the “Avengers Assemble!” equivalent, the gathering of a group of very different people with equally different skills who must find a way to work together if they are to save the day. Another next big trope would when the team (who often share a family-like bond) completely falls apart.

Which is pretty much where Team Three is at the beginning of Bookburners: Season Three. As members of The Society, their job is to hunt down dangerous magical books and bring them back to the safety of the Vatican. But how can they possibly do that when their team has been so thoroughly diminished? Thanks to her controversial opinions on magic, Asanti has been banned from field work, leading her to rebuilding The Society’s long defunct magical division (Team Four) in secret, alongside fellow Society member Francis (who has been cursed by magic), and Perry (Sal’s brother, who has recently been merged with an Angel). Grace has left Team Three altogether, without any explanation to her former comrades. The team’s remaining members: Sal, Liam, and Father Menchú, find themselves short staffed and literally fighting against the clock, thanks to the time restrictions placed on them by The Society’s new leader, Cardinal Fox. Then, an old enemy returns, and the trouble she brings is bigger then anything they’ve ever faced before. If Team Three is to succeed they must pool together all of their resources. But how will they do so when the foundations of their bonds have been poisoned by secrets and mistrust?

Bookburners is quite an interesting work, a fiction serial written and paced as if it were a television show. While the show is “airing,” content is put out on a weekly basis, which you can read as it’s released, or binge all at once, as I prefer to do. Much like the first two seasons, Season Three is handed by a team of writers (Max Gladtone, Margaret Dunlap, Andrea Phillips, Brian Fancis Slattery, and Mur Lafferty), with each person handling two of three episodes each. While the format hasn’t changed from Season One, the quality has risen noticeably, with Season Three being its strongest by far. And yes, much of this has to do with the fact that the stakes have been risen pretty high this time around, but I think the real reason for its success is actually much smaller. Because even when the writers have their eye on epic developments, the focus is kept on the characters we’ve fallen in love with over the course of the first two seasons, and the complex relationships that exist between them.

And when I say relationships, I mean of all stripes. Season Three explores platonic friendships, romantic entanglements, and those between family members (Sal and Perry), and it does so in a way that really pulls you in and keeps you emotionally invested with the characters. Hell, there’s pretty much a love triangle this season, yet it doesn’t really feel like one, given that it lacks all of the frustrating elements that lead to love triangles making me want to pull out my hair. Instead, all people’s emotions are treated with respect, as are the restrictions put on them, given the world that they life in.

The focus of the series has also shifted again. While Season One was all about Sal, and Season Two was about Liam and Asanti, Season Three is more about Menchú and Grace. Grace lives a unique existence, thanks to her life force being tied to a candle flame. When the candle is lit, she is awake. When the candle has been snuffed off, she exists in a coma-like state where she does not age. As a result, she experiences time very differently then everyone else. What has been a thirty-year-relationship for Father Menchú is merely five years for her. Season Three does a great job of exploring the emotional consequences of watching your friends rapidly age before your eyes, and knowing that your life will one day literally burn out. The central plot this time around is all about Father Menchú. When he encounters an enemy of his past, he finds his bonds to his teammates and his faith tested. And it’s that second test that has me really engaged in Menchú as a character, given that I am also a person of faith. And while I don’t really require my fiction to confirm my beliefs, I prefer it to present people of all faith as complex individuals rather then two-dimensional stereotypes. This is something that Bookburners has always done well, and not just with Father Menchú, which is certainly worth highlighting.

In conclusion: The hallmark of a great ensemble show is the longer you spend with its characters, the more invested you become with their struggles. Bookburners is a prime example of this. Thanks to the strength of its cast, and the relationships they share, I found myself enjoying season three most of all. I know that Season Four is already in development. Given that the first episodes of previous seasons have all dropped during the summer months, I suspect that the same will go for Season Four. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

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