Limited Wish – by Mark Lawrence (Review)

Impossible Times #2

Time Travel, Scifi

47North; May 28, 2019

222 pages (ebook)

3.5 / 5 ✪

The new Mark Lawrence time travel epic confused me past the point of… confusion. Not that that’s unusual. I’ve a physics background and can often follow the math to a point. That point was not in Limited Wish. I mean, I’d never even heard of half the principles in this book but… I digress.

Nick is 16, a budding genius, working on a time-altering project in Cambridge beside to his idol, Dr. Halligan. Following the events of the previous year, his hair has grown back, his leukemia’s in remission, he’s lost a girlfriend, and made several new and interesting enemies. Not bad for a teen, right? As Limited Wish opens, we find Nick easing back into his old life as just one more unrecognized genius. But that is about to change. Thanks to a previously unsolved proof, one famous professor, and the power of cancer, Nick’s stock is on the rise.

That is, until he attends a garden party. And his world changes forever.

Demus is back, as is a new time-traveler—doppelgänger for Helen, a cute girl Nick’s met at Cambridge—that Nick knows nothing about. But she knows him. As the story progresses, we find out more and more about time travel, the fate of the timelines, and more about 80’s music and D&D than some of us thought was possible. And the travelers themselves have their fates revealed.

One Word Kill was based on a strength of story and characters. While Limited Wish may have the theory nailed down (I honestly couldn’t tell you, but that Lawrence dude seems pretty smart, so) and the characters are stronger than ever, I found it was the story that suffered. I mean, a little. It was entertaining and all, but… well, time-travel novels tend to tie my brain in knots. Especially those that have their theory really down. Granted, I prefer them to the half-assed ones or whatever the “traveling through history” thing was in Paradox Bound—but I find that they still tend to detract from my enjoyment. Additionally, I didn’t think that this round’s main and D&D narratives melded as well as One Word Kill’s did. They were kinda related—but it was sometimes a stretch.

While I may have additional issues with the 2nd Impossible Times, I also have additional praise for it. The characters—mostly thorough and thought-out in OWKill—have evolved into something more, something truly believable. With one absolutely enormous caveat: the main villain. I didn’t really like Ian Rust in the first book. Thought he was pretty much around because the story needed a villain, but wasn’t believable at all. Charles is worse. I feel like he’s only around for the same reason, but isn’t the strong, believable person that Ian was. Which is just sad. Anyway, excepting Charles, the characters of LWish are what brings the story alive. From the interactions between Nicodemus and his D&D party members, to the group that collects when his cancer returns, to the love-triangle between Nick, Mia and Helen—the book’s strength is in its characters.

TL;DR

Limited Wish is an entertaining sequel that nearly lives up to its predecessor, yet fails to improve upon it. Pack with interesting characters, mind-bending time paradoxes, and entertaining pitfalls, it may be just what you need to break yourself out of a reading slump. However, a subpar story, unrelated D&D mashups and a villain that’s just stupid ridiculous may prove a setback to others. Free for Amazon Prime members means it’s probably worth a shot if you’re on the fence. But I’m hoping for better from the Impossible Times series when Dispel Illusion drops in November.

Book Review: One Word Kill – by Mark Lawrence

Impossible Times #1

Scifi, Time Travel

47North; May 1, 2019

201 pages

3.5 / 5 ✪

One Word Kill follows fifteen year-old Nick Hayes through his weekly chemotherapy, D&D sessions, and a slow but insistent descent into madness. You see, it begins with the diagnosis of cancer, but takes off when Nick notices a strange yet familiar man following him. This man, Demus, claims he’s in a race against time to save Mia—Nick’s friend (in the way that teenage girls are considered friends to nerdy, quiet teenage boys; so, maybe somewhat)—and needs Nick’s help. Nick agrees but only after an important piece of info. See, Demus claims to hail from the future, a future in which Nick lives, something that’s of a great concern to a boy diagnosed with a mostly terminal disease. Now, Lawrence may not describe this as Nick’s intro to a less than sane version of himself, but honestly that’s pretty much what it sounds like. Next thing it’ll go all Pincher Martin and dude’ll wake up to find that he died at the beginning.

Anywho~ so begins Impossible Times.

So, going in to this I didn’t remember a whole lot of the premise. I knew it was by Mark Lawrence (whom I’m familiar with), about time travel, and set somewhere in the 80’s. That’s about it. And I started reading.

The resultant was actually pretty good.

While I was initially disappointed that the chemo didn’t make Nick develop time-bending superpowers (Spoilers!: he doesn’t), and he didn’t use said powers to travel time fighting crime and teaching various generations of women to looove—I got over it. The actual story is… what? More realistic, I guess. I mean, it’s the 80’s. In London. Back to the Future has just come out. D&D’s a thing. And there’s time travel, apparently.

The story’s pretty solid. I mean, it’s… complete. But kind of a bare bones complete. A straightforward plot that doesn’t take the time at the outset to cover all its bases. So, it’s your classic back-in-time to save-the-future time travel adventure, but with some interesting twists at the end. There’re also more than a few details we’re left hanging on. Maybe the author’s holding these for Book II, but it seems more likely an err on his part.

The D&D sessions help set the tone of One Word Kill. The title, for instance. It’s based on some D&D thing. If you’re unfamiliar with Dungeons and Dragons, well, the book will help with that. Maybe watch some Critical Role to top it off. Nick and his friends Simon, Elton, John and Mia find that their adventures through the fantastical world of imagination and twenty-sided dice often parallels their real world dilemmas. Many sessions even provide insight into how to approach their physical lives. As D&D often does, I’m told.

There’s a fair amount of math and physics talk, which Lawrence gets through in generally broad terms (this being a book that he’d like people to read for like, fun) and gets mostly right. If you don’t like science or math or find it confusing—it’s cool. Just skip it. Mostly it all comes down to Nick trying to justify time travel as an actual thing. Not just science fiction. Despite this, there was never any explanation of how exactly (roughly) time travel worked. I mean, like if there was a machine or wormhole or something. I would’ve expected Nick to harp on this, but he didn’t mention it once. Maybe Lawrence forgot, or couldn’t think of anything.

Nick’s a pretty cool guy. For being a total nerd and teen genius, I mean. His narration skills are pretty good (yes, this is written in 1st PPOV), although he gets distracted by the normal teenage things like girls, alcohol, girls, and video games (did they not have Mountain Dew yet?). Also cancer, but that’s natural (getting distracted by it, I mean).

I’m really trying not to spoil the plot, so forgive me if I’m being a little vague. Or maybe just get the book. I think it’s free for kindle unlimited. Or cheapish otherwise. Besides, it’s a great little adventure, yet fails to provide answers to all the questions it raises. It’s not bad by any means, but hopefully the plot will improve with the sequel. Which I eagerly await.

Limited Wish, Impossible Times II, comes out in just a couple weeks, on May 28, 2019.

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: 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.

Book Review: Paradox Bound – by Peter Clines

Standalone

Scifi, Time Travel

Crown; September 26, 2017

373 pages

3 / 5 ✪

BEWARE MINOR SPOILERS (though only in the case of “history travel”)

Time travel can often be a bit confusing. Depending on what you’re going for, what the concept is, and how many different paradoxes are involved (not to mention what they are)—time travel in books can often be impossible to explain. Luckily, Paradox Bound is about traveling through history, so… yeah, this isn’t going to make a ton of sense.

Eli Teague was eight and a half the first time he met Harry Pritchard. So begins one of the more consternating standalone novels I’ve ever read. But we’ll get to that. The first time, Eli finds Harry by the side of the road in his hometown of Sanders, Maine—a fictional bit of nowhere in nowhere Maine. A town where nothing changes and nothing ever happens. By eight, Eli is convinced that Sanders is the most boring town in the world. And then he meets Harry.

1929 Ford Model A Business Coupe—turns out I was waaaay off.

The car is a dark blue Ford 1929 Model A; a classic on the outside, a futuristic—with more lights and switches than a—rocketship on the inside (I’m not much of a car guy, but I figure this is worth mentioning, plus, I kept wondering the whole book what it looked like). Harry is dressed in a Revolutionary period outfit, with a matching overcoat and tricorne. Immediately making her the most interesting thing to happen to Eli, ever. Soon after, Harry leaves town, chased by a man in a black suit driving a black Hornet, never to return.

Well, never-ish.

This scene repeats itself several times, with Harry remaining the same age and Eli aging steadily. Bringing us to the present day.

Eli always figured Harry wasn’t from this time, but the truth is a bit more complicated. It turns out that Harry is an treasure hunter, traveling through history in pursuit of an elusive American treasure—the American Dream. Which is… pretty much what it sounds like. A dream. To accomplish more, to do more, to make life greater than it was. How one would find and possess this, however… a bit more complicated. Which involves an Egyptian god and the Freemasons. And then, the history travel part—also complex. But Eli will soon discover this, and more, when he digs in a little too deep and warns Harry about the men on her tail.

The faceless men. Yeah, literally faceless. No faces.

Thus begins their timeless (ha) adventure to find the greatest treasure in American history, and use it to accomplish their wildest dreams (again, ha). It’s an entertaining ride and a fun, interesting adventure—diverted by the fact that it makes absolutely no damn sense.

Upon asking Harry about it for the first time, Eli receives an answer approximating this. There are stories upon stories, but they’re all third- or fourth-hand, with absolutely zero proof to back the whole thing up. I mean, there is the whole time travel—I mean, history travel thing, that clearly works, but the Dream may not and even should not ever exist. I hate to admit this, but the story is actually pretty catchy. In spite of the fact that (or maybe because of) it doesn’t make any sense—it’s new and interesting. History travel is interesting.

In 2017, I read Time Salvager, by Wesley Chu, a time traveling thriller which seemed to commit every time paradox cliché there is. Paradox Bound really does none of them. I think that’s the reason I liked it so much (despite it being reaaaally confusing and nonsensical). It’s certainly new, and definitely inventive. Nothing else quite like it that I can think of.

History travel pertains to the ability to traverse history—in this case American—through the years 1764-2050, through the use of time skips, that are only navigable in a vehicle of some sort. You can only go so far up through history (2050, in this case), since… well, it’s unclear. Maybe the idea of America falls through. Maybe there’s an apocalyptic event. Maybe something else. 1764 because that’s where the idea of America began. Any time before, there would’ve been no American history to travel. I mean, it’s not like there wasn’t any history before, but that’s different. Apparently. In ways never explained. But it seems one can only traverse history through use of the Dream, so it can only be American. Until (SPOILER) Clines forgets this, and tips that one can actual travel other countries’ histories. Somehow.

The characters of the book are what make Paradox Bound so readable. Eli and Harry (among others) are both relatable, underdog, and human enough that I enjoyed their entire story, but no more so than when they appear together, as their dynamic is excellent. Eli goes through an odd character arc from being a somewhat slow lead, to an inventive and sometimes brilliant one, in the span of a few weeks. It’s… inconsistent? Just a bit. The faceless men… I’m not getting into, as they’re are just ridiculous.

Paradox Bound is an ambitious project with an unprecedented concept that really pushes the envelope. It’s characters, adventure and locations are what make it a truly great read. However, this excellence is let down through poor character development, an essentially nonsensical explanation of so many things, and villains that are Mystery-Science-Theater-bad. If you’re a fan of Clines or a good, fun, casual tale, dive in. If you like a little bit more science in your science fiction, maybe skip it. If you’ve never read Clines, maybe try The Fold first. Either way, I can’t recommend against Paradox Bound, despite how much it aggravated me at times. It’s okay, but pretty much just that.