I just loved how the life-story of Shepherd Book was structured – starting from the moment of his death (on planet Haven, as we well know from the movie ‘Serenity’) and going backwards to the unknown parts of his life. All the defining moments of Book’s life are presented as a chain of events that we uncover from end to origin, as each short chapter delves deeper into his past.
Because the story (by Zack and Joss Whedon) was structured this way, it really kept me guessing the whole way through, and also called for a second read, to rearrange the flow of things in my mind. I also liked how the last words of each Chapter are the first words of the next, only spoken by a completely different person, in a completely different (and earlier) time, in a completely different situation (and did I mention that the story goes backwards?)
So, what’s to know about the mysterious Shepherd Book anyway? Firstly, that Derial Book is not his real name. Secondly, he had not always been a shepherd (obviously). He used to be Alliance (we kinda guessed that one), and also a Browncoat (that, though, came out of nowhere), a criminal and a street thug (which explains his affiliation with Jayne), and, apparently, he had a real lousy childhood and a pretty violent adulthood.
At some extremely low point of his life, in an amusing scene that involves a bowl of soup, the planet and stars and the universe, he experiences an epiphany and eventually becomes a man of god – the shepherded we know him to be.
Another great scene is the one that seals the volume. Young Book (though, by now we have learned that his real name is actually Henry) leaves his crappy home and abusive father, never to return. These last few panels were quite touching, because they managed to convey Book’s loneliness as a young kid, his determination to fight his way through life, and how for him, it’s all rooted in a hurtful childhood, and the need to protect his own right to even exist.
Art by Chris Samnee and colorist Dave Stewart uses shading and coloring to define shapes, rather than just traditional outlining, which was really nice and created the feeling of low-lighted (or candle-lit) rooms, all in the brownish colors of Firefly’s ’verse. My only rant is that most of the time I felt like the art was just there, doing its job in depicting the story, but nothing more. I mean to say, though the art was nice, there weren’t enough panels that really wow the reader.
In a note from writer Zack Whedon (at the end of the volume), Zack describes how he enjoyed writing for Firefly’s ‘verse and how he could write Jayne’s dialogue all day long. As a reader, I did feel the writer’s affection for the characters, and Jayne’s scenes were indeed my favorites:
“…And I lie down with whores from time to time… And that’s not near as often as I’d like”. (Jayne tries to calculate the balance between his bad and good deeds, while dicussing the prospect of afterlife with the Shepherd).
So, if you’re a Firefly fan, and you haven’t read the Shepherd’s Tale yet, then you definitely should. It’s good. Gorram good.