Capt. Malcolm Reynolds: It's of interest to me how much you seem to know about that world.
Shepherd Book: I wasn't born a shepherd, Mal.
Capt. Malcolm Reynolds: You have to tell me about that sometime.
Shepherd Book: [pause] No, I don't.
Fans of "Firefly" and "Serenity" always got the sense that there was more to Shepherd Book than met the eye, but with those lines in "Serenity", we were left wondering if we'd ever learn the true story behind this mysterious man of faith. Well, "Serenity: The Shepherd's Tale" gives us the whole story, and from beginning to end -- or technically from end to beginning -- it's pitch perfect.
The story, written by Joss and Zack Whedon and drawn by Chris Samnee, works its way backwards through Book's life, starting with the unseen attack on Haven in "Serenity" in which he was fatally wounded. It then takes us back to the time when he was on the ship, then his first meeting with Kaylee and so on, all the way back to his childhood.
I don't want to give too much away, because the page-by-page slow reveal of who this man really was is incredibly impressive. The Whedons did a phenomenal job jumping years at a time and hitting the key moments of Book's life, with each successive jump back adding more context to the previous scene. In the end, we're left with a not 100% complete backstory, but enough of an outline to understand the character's motivations for being on Malcolm Reynolds's ship -- and it turns out, we end up with a character who's much more like Mal than the Captain would have ever believed.
Even if you're not a "Firefly"/"Serenity" fan, you'll find plenty to like about this book, because it's such a strong single-character story, and you can read it multiple times before you pick up everything there is to learn. But if you are a fan of the show, you'll get so much more from it. The artwork isn't as good as some of the stuff Will Conrad has done on the past "Serenity" books, it it works well enough, particularly where the main character is involved.
Truthfully, when I heard that "The Shepherd's Tale" was going to become a reality, my biggest fear was not that the story would fail to live up to the hype created behind this man's life, but that it would in fact change how I viewed both "Firefly" and "Serenity". And despite the detailed world that they have created, that isn't the case at all. In fact, somehow they've crafted a backstory that I never would have come up with on my own, but one that also completely fits in to my perceptions of Book.