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

Islevale Cycle #2

Fantasy, Time Travel

Angry Robot; May 28, 2019

504 pages

4 / 5 ✪

I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Time’s Demon is the second in the Islevale Cycle, proceeding the events of Time’s Children. It began with a very unexpected character, at a very unexpected time. It ended with an unexpected result, following a series of rather unexpected events. At first I thought it marked a departure from the initial book, as neither Tobias nor Mara appeared for the first third or so. But then they did, and the story proceeded. In an unexpected, if not… unpredictable manner. Let me say plainly: I couldn’t predict the turns this story took. If I had (which, I tried; I always do), they would’ve been wrong. All in all, Time’s Demon was quite an entertaining read, though if one started into it hoping to immediately continue the adventure that had just left off, they would be disappointed.

This marks the tenth book I’ve read by David B. Coe, including 6 under the pseudonym of D. B. Jackson. So, there’s that. Cool, huh? Instead setting the scene this time, here’s the official blurb:

Fifteen year-old Tobias Doljan Walked back in time to prevent a war, but instead found himself trapped in an adult body, his king murdered and with an infant princess, Sofya, to protect. Now he has been joined by fellow Walker and Spanner, Mara, and together they must find a way to undo the timeline which orphaned the princess and destroyed their future. Arrayed against them are assassins who share their time-traveling powers, but have dark ambitions of their own, and the Tirribin demon, Droë, whose desperate quest for human love and Tobias leads her into alliances which threaten all of Islevale.

Time’s Demon presents another slow build, in some ways even more than that seen in the first. The hook is set and baited early on, as it was in the prior tale, but this is populated with different characters than before. Characters with their own wants and needs (and backstories), that were under utilized in the previous book. Again, it’s important to note that Tobias, Sofya and Mara will return—and that the heart of the story still very much revolves around then.

And yet, their story, while entertaining, furthers the overarching storyline very little. And so we exit Time’s Demon little further than when Time’s Children left off. That’s not to say the book accomplishes nothing. Instead, the storylines are pushed off to other characters—in particular Droë, a Tirribin notable in the first entry. Actually, her story was good enough in this that it distracted me from the lack of progression in Tobias and Mara’s tale. Until writing this review, even.

In my opinion, it was the characters of Time’s Children that made it such an entertaining read. Not only does Demon continue this trend, but builds upon it. In addition to Mara and Tobias’s backstory—as well as a new character I won’t spoil—Droë adds an unexpected element to the story. Until this book, demons (Tirribin, Belvora, Shonla, Arrokad) are viewed mostly as savage and conniving beasts, excepting maybe the rogue elements like Droë or Teelo, who still fed on humans, but occasionally interacted with them as well. Droë’s adventure wrecks this all. I mean, yeah, half the demons still eat people, but it turns out they are much more complex than I’d thought before. Additionally, the dynamic between Sofya and Tobias (and Mara) has changed—as the princess is now an infant—but not so much. It were her interactions with Tobias that sold the first book for me. While in this one her role is reduced somewhat (due to the influx of other characters’ POVs), she still represents an important member of the cast.

Time’s Demon capitalizes on the successes of Time’s Children with strong characters, immersive world-building and superior dialogue. While the expanded cast of characters did push some of my favorites from Book #1 aside for a third of the text, their arcs were more than entertaining enough to keep me ingrained. The second Islevale book does little to further the plot from the first, however (with the murdered royal family, walking back in time and such). And yet Droë’s adventure stole the show, giving anyone more than enough reason to read Time’s Demon. If you liked the first one, you’ll enjoy the second.

Time’s Demon comes out later this month. Hopefully you’ll stay at this emotional “want-to-read” level until then! YEEEEEEEAAAAAHHHH!!!

Book Review: Metro 2033 – by Dmitry Glukhovsky

Metro Series #1

Scifi, Post-Apocalyptic

Gollancz; April 1, 2011

458 pages

3.5 / 5 ✪

A metaphysical journey combines with a thrilling, coming-of-age adventure. A post-apocalyptic Russia overrun by mutants. With the addendum of a mysterious enemy, Metro 2033 is complete. And yet… in joining these three elements, Metro just can’t decide what it wants to be.

I’ve played the game—a few times, in fact—but none of them prepared me for the journey Dmitry Glukhovsky weaves. Actually, I read through a good portion of this book while playing Metro Exodus, though none of this caused me to lose touch with the tale. Part of it has to do with Exodus; the story element isn’t as strong as it’s been in the previous two games—but I’ll have to review it to talk about this. Which… maybe? Anyway, one of the main reasons I was able to get through a related, though distinctly unique game while reading 2033 lies in what it is as a story. And just what it tells.

Metro 2033 tells the story of Artyom, a young man trapped in the Moscow Metro. Above him, the world is gone. Ruined. Changed by nuclear war. He was but a boy when the bombs fell, but remembers their sound and fury well. Even better than he remembers the world before. Better still than he recalls his mother’s face, her voice.

Since then he has lived in the metro tunnels, along with but a fraction of the human race, those few that survived alongside him. When he was young still a rat swarm overran his home station, Artyom alone saved when his mother pressed him into a soldier’s hands. At the start of 2033 he lives in VDNKh with his stepfather, Sukhoi, the very soldier who led him to safety all those years before. It is not an overly safe life, the constant fear of being overrun by rats, mutants, fascists, communists, or succumbing to either starvation or radiation—but is a quiet one, nonetheless. And one that is shattered with the arrival of Hunter.

Long story short, Hunter gives Artyom a mission—to deliver a message to Melnik at Polis—should he not return to the station within a day. While the reason for this wasn’t super clear at the time, from the context of later conversations (and the game, of course) it becomes clear that VDNKh is close to being overwhelmed by an unknown threat. What follows is the story of Artyom’s journey, a meandering trial of terror and tears, set in a destroyed world, populated by the remnants of humanity. He is witness to the best and worst and most human of humanity: smugglers, cannibals, killers, survivors, the faithful as well as the deceived. All and more.

While 2033 was quite the tale, it wasn’t what I’d call… engrossing. Sure, there was a story. A really good one, at that. It just wasn’t what I expected. Instead of a post-apocalyptic action-thriller, I’d classify 2033 as a metaphysical experience set in a post-apocalyptic world, with elements of mystery, thriller and scifi epic.

Stories dominate the text. The main, overarching one is Artyom’s. But his is not alone. Instead, imagine if you had a main story that was constantly interrupted by other legends, lore and second- or third-hand tales of the metro, all told by people the lead character meets in his own journey. Tales that often interrupt the main story—and while providing interesting lore—accomplish little more than distracting from the primary adventure itself. This is what 2033 gives the reader. A muddied, confusing jumble of tales that somewhere at its heart bear a diamond core.

The deep, thought-out world is more than enough of a reason to read Metro 2033. It’s more than just an adventure, a thriller, a mystery, yet somehow, as it tries to include all of these elements, loses all of them. It is certainly worth reading—I did enjoy the book more than the game (helped by the fact that I didn’t die every couple minutes and have to repeat a section)—though nowhere near the experience I was hoping for.