Book Review: Time’s Children – by D. B. Jackson

Islevale Cycle #1

Fantasy, Time Travel

Angry Robot; October 2, 2018

515 pages

4.5 / 5 ✪

Time’s Children was one heck of an entertaining read—especially on the heels of another bit of time travel fiction—a time travel fantasy that was an interesting bit of genre-cross that I’d not experienced before. As always, Jackson’s writing is lovely; attaining a classic fantasy feel while painting a vividly colorful world full of deep and insightful characters. This is my 9th book by the author (4 as David B. Coe, 5 under the pseudonym D. B. Jackson) and I have to say, he hops around quite a bit between genres, doesn’t he?

Time’s Children begins the Islevale Cycle, a fantasy world set upon a world of sea and islands, in which certain individuals—known as Travelers—combine their natural abilities and golden, specialized devices in order to cheat the natural order. Spanners use their sextants in order to traverse great distances in but an instant. Crossers use their apertures to move through solid matter. Walkers can move back and forth through time by means of a chronofor. Of these three, Walkers are the rarest and most sought after, due to their ability to change the course of events. Each of these powers comes with a price, however. Never did learn the weakness of Spanning. Huh. Crossers that encounter metal in their passage return with horrible injuries or can suffer death. And Walkers suffer the time they travel twice (meaning, if a Walker were to travel back a year, and then return, their body would have aged two years in that time: one year to go back, another to return).

Tobias Doljan is a Walker, training at the Traveler’s Palace in the north sea. Days before his 15th birthday, he is summoned to the court of Mearlan IV, ruler of Daerjen. Leaving his home for court is a daunting task, but one Tobias is excited about. Yet in doing so he gives up much. The camaraderie of his peers, or anyone his age. An interesting friend—a Tirribin, a time demon, which preys upon humans’ years in order to live (if you’ve seen any Stargate Atlantis, they’re pretty much the wraith, except in the bodies of children). And budding love in the form of another initiate, Mara. And yet Tobias is excited for court life. More than excited, even. It’s something he’s been working his whole life for. And yet, within days of reaching Daerjen, it might all be over.

Daerjen is in the middle of a war, a war that isn’t going well. The monarch has exhausted all his options—all, but one. Something only a Walker might do. For if he can travel back, Tobias can prevent the war altogether. But there is a huge problem. Due to the very nature of Walking, the toll it inflicts on Walkers, the Traveler’s Palace limits the length of time Walkers are to travel to no more than two years. Any more, and the Walkers are told to refuse their employer, that the contract is voided, and to return home. And yet Mearlan asks anyway. He asks Tobias not to go back one or two, but fourteen years.

This establishes an interesting (if horrifying) concept. Should Tobias Walk (Spoilers: of course he does) he would essentially triple in age by the time he returns home. He’d be a 15-year old boy, stuck in the body of a 43-year old man. That’s just… ludicrous. And yet, to prevent a war, Tobias acquiesces. And yet, after his Walk back, nothing goes to plan. Mearlan is assassinated along with all his court, Tobias’s chronofor is destroyed, and Tobias is forced to flee with the last of the monarch’s kin—his infant daughter, Sofya.

The premise of this book was what first caught my attention. I mean, Tobias coming to terms with the fact that he’s doubled in age, that he’s a boy in the body of a man—is fascinating. And horrifying. Not to mention that he now must caring for an infant. Not to mention that she’s the sole heir to the throne. And that everyone in this new time is hunting for them. And that Tobias can’t return to his old (um, future) time. And it’s how he handles it that makes Time’s Children completely worth reading.

My favorite part of this book was actually his dealings with Sofya. The Sovereign’s daughter was 16 when Tobias first met her, but it’s the 2-year old princess that steals the show. Because she acts like a two-year old. She lives, she laughs, she loves—and she poops. Plus, she can’t talk. And she doesn’t understand a good many things that are happening. I figured she’d be little more than a prop in baby-form. And I was wrong. And that’s just awesome.

I did have a couple issues with Time’s Children. One was a lot later in the story, so as not to spoil anything… I’m just going to say it involved time paradoxes, and the decision of when and when not to travel back. The other, actually, is the first chapter. More specifically, what happens in it, and what doesn’t happen in the rest of the book. I hate it when a book gives us a teaser about something that will happen later on, but then doesn’t ever get to that point. Now, I assume that this scene—where someone, presumably Tobias, is back trying to prevent the war or assassination or something—will occur later in the series. Or, is supposed to. But I don’t KNOW that. And unless David B. Coe has FINISHED writing all the other Islevale books, HE can’t know that either. Sometimes, a scene like this will get edited out. Sometimes, the story will simply move in a different direction. A lot of things can happen. Too bad too; I kept expecting the point to crop up and was disappointed when I reached the end and it hadn’t.

All in all, Time’s Children is an excellent read, providing a new and unique premise then proceeding to execute it well. The characters stole the show for me; the character arcs and growth, but especially the interactions between Tobias and baby Sofya made this a book I could not put down. And while an unsatisfying conclusion held it back from being a solid 5 stars, Time’s Children is a must read—and probably the best book I’ve read so far this year.

Its sequel, Time’s Demon, comes out on May 28, 2019.

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