Mini Review: Time’s Children (The Islevale Cycle 1) – A Fast-Paced Time Travel Fantasy

Hey all! It’s been a terribly busy week and I’ve been neglecting my reading and blogging in favour of pretty much everything else. So I’ll try to catch up on your comments and posts in the upcoming week.

In the meantime, here’s one very overdue mini review! (I told myself I would do more of these)

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Time's Children


Title
: Time’s Children (The Islevale Cycle 1)
Author: D.B. Jackson
Publisher: Angry Robot
Release Date: October 2nd, 2018
Genre(s): Fantasy, Science Fiction
Subjects and Themes: Time Travel
Page Count: 528 (paperback)

Rating: 6.5/10

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Fifteen year-old Tobias Doljan, a Walker trained to travel through time, is called to serve at the court of Daerjen. The sovereign, Mearlan IV, wants him to Walk back fourteen years, to prevent a devastating war which will destroy all of Islevale. Even though the journey will double Tobias’ age, he agrees. But he arrives to discover Mearlan has already been assassinated, and his court destroyed. The only survivor is the infant princess, Sofya. Still a boy inside his newly adult body, Tobias must find a way to protect the princess from assassins, and build himself a future… in the past.

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I found this to be a pleasantly lukewarm read for the most part. The prose is simple but engaging. The worldbuilding isn’t overly complex but still snags your attention. It doesn’t do anything out-of-this-world fantastic, but it sets up a nice jumping off point for what could be a very good fantasy series.

The world of Time’s Children is one where Walkers (those who can time travel), Spanners (those who can cross long distances in a blink of an eye), Seers (those who can glimpse into the future), and other such gifted individuals ply their services to nobility. Tobias is a 15-year old Walker who has been tasked with traveling back 14 years to prevent a war. Everything goes awry when he arrives, however, and he becomes witness to the assassination of the royal family and ends up having to flee the castle with the baby princess in his arms.

The time travel plot doesn’t kickstart until about 1/3 of the way into the book, which I actually quite liked. I appreciated that Jackson took the time to not only establish Tobias’ character, but also the rules of time travel–clothes off when traveling; running into your traveled self is dangerous; and if you travel back 12 years, you age 12 years, and when you travel forward again, you age 12 more–and the political situation of these countries. It’s fascinating stuff and I enjoyed this slower-paced first half more than the action-filled second half.

I also loved that these Walkers aren’t romanticized. While respected by nobility and commoners both, their job isn’t a pretty one. They exist, really, to clean up the nobility’s mistakes, sacrificing years of their life while doing so. A character remarks to Tobias near the beginning that there’s little to separate it from slavery, and I couldn’t agree more. I hope it gets brought up again in the later books because it’s great foundation for character conflicts.

Which brings me to my main problem: the characters. Tobias himself is a sweet, likeable boy who reminded a little bit of young FitzChivalry. But pleasant and likeable is about the extent of his character. I would have loved an in-depth exploration into his PTSD as I can only imagine the psychological havoc that a sudden aging can wreak on a person. Unfortunately, it’s an area for character growth that the story doesn’t really take advantage of. Yet, anyway. Considering this is only the first book, I assume–hope–we’ll see more layers to him in the sequels. As for the side characters, they’re a diverse bunch and they’re all given PoVS of their own, but I had a hard time connecting with any of them.

All in all, though, this was a fast-paced, highly readable fantasy with a lot of potential and room for growth and I’m interested to see where the author takes the story next.

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Review copy provided by publisher via Netgalley

Novella Review: Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach – Smart Eco Scifi

Gods, Monsters

Title: Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach
Author: Kelly Robson
Publisher: Tor.com
Release Date: March 13th, 2018
Genre: Sci-Fi, Post-Apocalypse
Subjects and Themes: Time Travel, Ecology
Page Count: 240 (paperback)

Rating: 7.5/10

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First of all, can we just take a moment to appreciate how fantastic that cover is?

Secondly, to all you scifi-loving field biologists and ecologists out there, this book is for you.

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach takes place on future Earth where everything has collapsed; due to rising sea levels, natural disasters, and a plague outbreak, many of our modern cities decided to dig underground and create a new home in the Earth’s crust. But time travel has become a viable thing in the last decade or so and it’s a very, very attractive option to a lot of people–a nudge here and there in the past might, after all, bring about a restoration of the economy, population, and of course, the ecosystem.

Our protagonist Minh wants to form a small team of scientists to travel back to ancient Mesopotamia (2024 BCE) to study the old ecosystems that helped birth so many early civilizations. Minh also just happens to be a woman with fully-functioning octopus arms in place of human legs. Prosthetics in this world have developed to the point where people can choose to attach various animal appendages to their bodies instead of the boring old human ones. It’s details like this that make the world fascinating and complex.

The first half of the story is a lot of logistics and your enjoyment of it will vary depending on how much you like reading about the behind-the-scenes of research projects–the proposal writing, the begging for greenlighting and funding (which readers in research fields should sympathize with. Or have horrible flashbacks to). It is a bit dry in places, but I liked it for the most part.

“This is a seduction…If you want to time travel, we need to get the client in bed with us.”

The second half sees our characters in Mesopotamia and that’s where the real fun begins. I loved this part and was positively green with envy at the characters. I mean, how cool would it be to have your field project take place in an ancient era? (Ignoring the problem of “virus strains were far more potent in the past, so you’d probably die before you can say “Eureka!”). Pretty cool.

My biggest complaint is that it ends rather abruptly and just as when things were getting really interesting, which is a problem I have with many one-shot novellas (assuming this is one-shot).

All in all, if you have any interest in environmental science, time travel, and eclectic characters, you might want to give this a shot.

Review: Past Imperfect – I Never Asked For This

Past Imperfect

Title: Past Imperfect
Author: Carrie Pack
Publisher: Interlude Press
Release Date: August 9th, 2018
Genre(s) and Subject(s): Sci-Fi, Mental Health, LGBTQIAP+
Page Count: 274 (paperback
Goodreads

Rating: 3.5/10

 

 

 

 

Note: there are some minor spoilers for In the Present Tense, Book 1 of the series, as well as spoilers for Past Imperfect.

Past Imperfect takes place immediately following the aftermath of Present Tense and we see Miles and Bethany on the run from Dr. Branagan and his cohorts–scientists who have been conducting illegal experiments on children for decades under the guise of mental health professionals.

This time we get Bethany’s PoV added alongside Miles, Adam, and Ana, which gives us a better insight into her schizophrenia and the horrific things she’s experienced at the hands of Branagan. She’s probably the most interesting character in the story and while I can’t speak for the validity of the depiction of schizophrenia, I do feel it was done respectfully. You can empathize with her struggles, both within and without, which is more than I can say for the other characters.

And…that’s pretty much where the positives end.

I complained in my review for In the Present Tense that the characters felt like puppets being shoehorned into a story that doesn’t quite fit them. Well, in Past Imperfect, we get less of the time travel and more of the puppetry, which is kind of detrimental because the former was the best part of Book 1.

I won’t list exhibits this time, but here’s one example of a scene that made me slack-jawed with disbelief. At one point in the story Ana tearfully confesses to Miles that she’s been cheating on him ever since she’d sent him off to the evil mental facility. Miles, after a brief exclamation of “You’re what?” makes a joke that the man she’s been cheating with (Miles’ boss) has a “great ass.” Ana acts embarrassed, more jokes are had, and everyone’s happy with the situation.

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There are other moments like this that made me wonder whether I was a reading a written adaptation of a bad soap opera envisioned by aliens, because no human acts like this. We get sudden declarations of love, an equally sudden reveal that one of the side characters has been a spy for the villains all along (because of course)–and all throughout I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or slowly grind my head into the nearest wall.

The other major problem was that I couldn’t take the bad guys seriously. Dr. Branagan isn’t quite the mustache-twirling villain, but his fingers are poised right on the tip of said mustache. The same goes for his underlings. Their personalities all begin and end at “evil scientists who experiment on kids,” and it’s kind of hard to feel concerned for the main characters when their enemies seem hell-bent on channeling the cheesiness of old scifi cartoon villains.

And most of all? I was bored. There’s no tension, no credible motives, and overall, not a whole lot to keep me invested in the story. And that’s incredibly disappointing because I found the initial premise of the series quite interesting and chock full of potential.

Copy provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Review: In the Present Tense – Great Scott, You’re a Time Traveller, Miles!

In the Present Tense

Title: In the Present Tense
Author: Carrie Pack
Publisher: Interlude Press
Release Date: May 19th, 2016
Genre(s) and Subject(s): Sci-Fi, LGBTQIAP+
Page Count: 336 (paperback)
Goodreads

Rating: 6.5/10

 

 

 

 

 

Imagine waking up one morning to find yourself 8 years in the future and in bed, not with your teenage boyfriend, but your twenty-something wife. Imagine your wife then explaining that you possess the ability to time travel and that you and your boyfriend–the love of your life–broke up soon after high school. Oh, and you’re also bisexual.

…Surprise, honey!

Miles Lawson has a condition that allows him to time travel, albeit in an erratic, uncontrollable fashion. Present day Miles is determined to find a permanent cure for his “ailment” and get back to living his current life, but teenage Miles is equally determined to put a wrench into his plans and reconnect with his ex-boyfriend (who is now engaged to someone else).

The characters reference Back to the Future quite a bit, but the story bears far more resemblance to “The Constant” episode of LOST, as Miles’ mind flits back and forth across time while his body remains in place.  So we get POVs from 25 year-old Miles, teenage Miles inhabiting the body of 25 year-old Miles, and future Miles in the body of present Miles. While it’s a little confusing in the beginning, it won’t take long for you get settled and once you do, it’s quite the entertaining ride. There’s a reason why “The Constant” is one of my favourite episodes in LOST and this book’s take on time travel (“temporal shifts” as it calls it) scratched an itch I’ve had since I last watched the show.

I also want to give props to the author for the sheer amount of diversity found among the characters. We get everything from a bisexual biracial protagonist, a Latina wife, a gay Asian man, to a lesbian teenager with schizophrenia. It’s not every day that I come across a queer sci-fi story with a Korean romantic interest and I may hissed “YES!” when I found out (to the consternation of the other commuters on my train).

The biggest problem I had was with the characters. These characters are diagnosed with what I call the “puppet syndrome”– being made to do and say things solely for the purpose of moving the plot in one specific direction, even if it means being contorted into strange and nonsensical shapes.

Okay, but isn’t that what every story does? All characters are essentially puppets manipulated by the writer. Well yes, but the readers shouldn’t be thinking that. For the duration of the story, we should be sold on the idea that this puppet is indeed a real boy, as opposed to constantly thinking, “These characters are like Barbie dolls awkwardly knocking against each other.”

And there’s some serious Barbie knockage going on in this story:

(Some spoilers ahead. And these are not actual quotes from the book.)

Exhibit A:

Miles: Hey, mom and dad, did anything weird ever happen to me as a kid?

Parents: Well, there was that time you stayed at your uncle’s place and his time travel research colleagues took you into their lab while you were sleeping and did all sorts of experiments on you.”

Miles: …Excuse me?

Exhibit B:

Ana (Miles’s wife): I’m so devastated by the fact that my husband is in a mental facility, even though I encouraged him to sign himself in.

(less than a week later)

Ana: Oh, Miles’s boss, kiss my sorrows away!

Exhibit C:

Adam: Miles, I have a fiancé and you have a wife. We should not be kissing!

(literally 3 pages later)

Adam: I know I haven’t seen you in 8 years but I love you more than I would ever love my fiancé. We’re like, destined, you and I.

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The second one is what gets me that most. Miles and Ana supposedly have had a happy marriage thus far, so I feel like the only reason for the latter to be cheating is to justify Miles and Adam getting back together.

So in the end, I never really got a good sense of any of these characters–not so much because they’re shallow, but because they swing back and forth from one action to another completely contradictory one with the speed of a weather vane in the middle of a hurricane.

All in all, I loved the time travel aspect and the themes presented, but the characters had me groaning in frustration to throwing my hands up crying, “Why are you doing this?”