After launching “Season 4” of “Roswell” in book form with “A New Beginning,” Kevin Ryan also writes the second “episode,” “Nightscape” (July 2003). He continues putting the teens into genre situations not found in the TV series; “A New Beginning” is a small-town kidnapping mystery and “Nightscape” is a haunted-house horror story.
This novel – the ninth in the 11-book series — is on par with Ryan’s first effort, yet it’s very different. He chooses Isabel as the focal character as the gang’s goal of getting far away from Roswell takes them to Washington state. Isabel dreams of Alex, which is a rehash of her dream in “Significant Others” (3.3). Meanwhile, Liz has a vision of Maria falling over a balcony in an old mansion.
The horror vibe is set, but “Nightscape” really becomes a page turner once Isabel starts reading from a diary in a seemingly abandoned mansion they choose to stay in for the night. This is a story within a story about the Benton family, who once lived in the house.
Ryan could’ve told this story in tie-in fiction for a variety of franchises, but it fits decently in “Roswell.” In fact, it fits better than the author himself realizes. Mel Odom’s “Shades,” the fourth book in the series, features ghosts just like this one does, but Ryan did not read that book, and his publishers and editors didn’t tip him off. Therefore, the teens debate about the likelihood of ghosts, never mentioning the events of “Shades.”
Among our heroes, Liz gets the best development in “Nightscape.” Her powers kick in at key moments, but only accidentally. She’d like to get control over them, and is forced to in the final showdown.
While Max and Liz are more comfortable around each other than ever, Michael and Maria are bickering again. I kept thinking Maria needs to cut Michael a break; for his part, he takes deep breaths and maturely works his way through her unfair – and sometimes outright rude — treatment of him.
Isabel is obsessed with the Benton diary, and Kyle – continuing from his feelings established in Season 3 and continued in “A New Beginning” — is protective of her, sleeping outside her bedroom door in the mansion.
“A New Beginning” is a richer book than “Nightscape,” thanks to a supporting cast that interacts with our teens. But this one is a quicker read, and it sticks the landing better thanks to the return of a nemesis from the TV series (which I won’t spoil here, although you can probably get it in three guesses).
I suspect if there had been a televised Season 4, Jason Katims and company would’ve revisited the dangling story threads (mostly from Season 2), so the return of this character is satisfying. The writing also fits with the TV portrayal; on the downside, the TV portrayal is kind of annoying.
Ryan’s payoff for Liz’s vision of Maria falling over a balcony is pretty lame, but his description of the mansion is excellent. I’m a sucker for any house that has not only a creepy basement, but also a sub-basement.
Some readers might say “Nightscape” is a horror story, not a “Roswell” story, but I think the genres meld together fairly well. And really, all the Special Unit stuff is getting a little old at this point, even if it is central to the saga’s premise. (Early in the book, there’s an encounter with that pesky FBI group.)
It’s nice to take a detour into horror while also revisiting some of the core mythology, and Ryan ultimately provides a nice handoff for the final two books, written by Andy Mangels and Michael A. Martin.