A month after the fact, I finally received my copy of Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale. I had been warned with mixed, vague reviews from friends, but I will wholeheartedly say: this story is amazing. Written by Zack Whedon from a loose outline from Joss, and with art by Chris Samnee, The Shepherd’s Tale would, in my opinion, be a perfect retroflection of the series to end on.
Yes, mild spoilers, but I will not get into the biggest reveals about Book’s life. See, I would not want to steal that from you. I will not rob you of the eye-widenening, “Wait, did what I thought just happen really happen?” type moments. For those in the know already, I think you can figure out what I’m talking about in the origin story of Derrial Book, and “I can live with that.”
I had been warned that my complaint about brevity would be equally voiced here, and I had prepared myself for having to say “well, it is a comic book, it is a different format, and you just can’t fit as much in since action and dialogue take up twice as much room instead of going together.” Yeah, I didn’t need to do that. I was almost worried in the way it started off, doing so with an almost Memento-like backwards moving plot. (Although, without the whole short-term memory loss thing.) Jumps are always of a few years back, all the way to a young boy running from home. By the end of the story, you realize that the narration of Book’s life truly does reflect his wise words about the journey verse the destination.
A note on the art style...it is much more simple and abstract, especially on things that aren’t in Book’s focus, which makes total sense. See, part of the mild spoiler’s here, this novel is written basically as Book’s life flashing before his eyes, going backwards through his life as a Shepherd and then his career in the Alliance, et cetera, each time touching on a critical, life-altering moment. And, as such, that the faces are indistinct in the sidelines, well, it has the feeling of a fading memory. I loved it.
More to the length. The main problem I had with Float Out was that they were three completely unconnected stories that told us nothing new about Wash. Neither of these are the case for Book. We start with the day of his death at Haven, have a scene on Serenity, and then a scene that isn’t hard to imagine of him leaving the Abbey and seeing Kaylee for the first time. After that, “it” hits the fan. It was fast and informative, and I drank it up much as I would an amazing wine, quick to taste and long to savor. The end of each page had me rapidly turning to see what was next before going back and actually reading the page slowly, taking in the impact of what was being said, the way it interconnected. This wasn’t just a book of anecdotes about a man, this was his life.
We have waited a good long time to know exactly how Book knew what he knew. So often, in cases like these, the fans are let down as theories they feel were better end up being debunked for something rote or blasé. The Whedons buck that trend with The Shepherd’s Tale. Derrial Book was everything I wanted him to be, and more.
Richard Fife is a writer, blogger, and according to his older son, a Water Bender. You can read more of his ramblings and some of his short fiction on his website, and you can also follow him on Twitter and Facebook.