Charlie is an odd boy who moves through life unnoticed. Literally. People don’t see him, people look away and even his own mother forgets his name. He is utterly forgettable.
Until he runs into and battles a clockwork man and finds himself falling through a portal to 18th century London – and meets a girl who can see him, a girl who can remember him, a girl who is out of time like himself.
But Yvaine has her own problems, a child, and a cruel gang she’s had to join to survive the streets of London who is not so quick to abandon her life to help him back to his own time. But more than their own stories, their presence has damaged the time, especially the accidental death of a young Ben Franklin. Now the future itself has been drastically changed and it’s a scramble to see if they can fix it, save Yvaine’s family and learn more about themselves
But there’s also a question of not just whether they can fix it – but also whether they should.
This book is definitely one to get your teeth into – a complicated time traveller world, leaping back and forth up and down the time line and trying to ensure the future stays right.
Of course, one of the advanced questions it asks is what is the right future, really? After all, how can any of them be sure what the time line is supposed to look like? Are the Tick-Tocks trying to bring about a change back to where they, their technology and their future is dominant – or are they fighting to bring back a future that was that other time travellers have already changed? Are they restoring the time line or changing it? Is it a time-travellers duty to change the time line? Is it their duty to preserve it?
It’s a wonderfully twisty, confusing world with lots of potentials and lots of excellent unknowns. We don’t know this, they don’t know the answers. The clues are scattered throughout time and need considerable research and translation to decipher the keys of history, to discover which individuals are pivot points on which all of time can change.
And the story isn’t about that
Oh, this complicated world certainly takes up a lot of the book. It influences everything and is part of everything and every decision has to consider it and a huge amount of it is explored. But this isn’t a book about philosophy or temporal musings with lots of dry info-dumps. This is the story of Charlie, clumsy new time traveller stumbling through the world and these revelations. Much of this he learns through trial and error and occasional insights and philosophies from people who, they themselves, have only a limited understanding. We get this excellent world show cased through the lens of a character and his more mundane wishes – trying to get home and his burgeoning relationship with Yvaine. In other books I’ve complained that an excellent world and concept has gone unexplored in favour of telling a clichéd romance – but in this book it works. This book needs the mundane to anchor the philosophical, it needs this basic, human story to balance the abstract of the concept and the world. It needed grounding so it isn’t all theoretical and concept dominated.
And the characters are interesting. Charlie shows a lot of growth – beginning from the rather selfish and self-absorbed panicking boy who begins the story; obsessed with getting home and forcing Yvaine to help him get home regardless of the cost to her or the life she is living. He grows up, becomes wiser, cares more for things beyond himself, has a lot of his childish illusions shattered and his world well and truly shaken.
And there’s Yvaine herself – always competent and more knowledgeable about the world than Charlie, she always maintains a powerful lead and never takes a back step to him or looks to him for protection even when he rescues her. She grows from someone who has been hemmed in by the situation she is in, enduring and tolerating without hope, pinned down by her responsibilities. She becomes much freer, and more defiant – she has an annoying habit of refusing to adapt to the world she’s in or the time she’s in – but she also learns and grows, she learns about her family and her treasured hopes, she digs up old ghosts and buries them, she stands up to arrogant authority and people who think they know everything, challenging accepted knowledge with her own keen sense of what is right.
I love to see a book where the main characters grow and change in a way that is well portrayed and realistic while still being profound and this book certainly has that.
I do think some of the historical causation needed more explanation – more evidence of meddling than just 2 events that we saw. There’s more than a whiff of American exceptionalism going on. It is bemusing to think that, had Ben Frankling not lived, the US would never have achieved independence – and without American Independence slavery would still be an ongoing institution into the 21st century – especially when you consider that an independent United States was hardly pioneering when it came to abolishing slavery; not doing so until well after European nations had already abolished it. Similarly, it is bemusing that the British Empire would still be upholding the divine right of kings – a concept that that was popular with the British monarchy in the Tudor and Stuart dynasties, but was hardly vogue by the time George III came around. Are we saying that America’s failure to become independent would cause a resurgence of this ideal? And that the democratic Parliament of the UK would collapse? It’s a simplistic reading of history that overly deifies an American Founding Father to the
Of course, it could be easily explained with other interferences and influences elsewhere in the time line – if we saw them, but we only saw 2 events.
Inclusionwise we have a number of side POC – but they’re often in servile if not outright slave roles and certainly don’t take a noticeable part of the plot. We do have, however, the leader of the rebels in the US as a Black man, a general and a free man who is not only opposing slavery but foreign rule entirely
We do have Sophie, Charlie’s excellent aunt who is a lesbian. She’s a very fun character, capable, swashbuckling, adventurous, brave and she finds love where she can. Of course the way the world is set out she is doomed to never find a partner who can share with her like Charlie because the way time travel works makes men and women travelling together more useful – and I don’t particularly like that Sophie is loyal to her brother because he has “given up” his life to travel with his “dyke sister.” Especially since he did have a relationship and a family – but it does speak volumes of tropes we do have in real life, of GBLT people feeling loyal to family members who didn’t reject them even though lack of rejection is all they’ve done – it could be a well done comment on that excessive gratitude caused by low expectations.
In all, this is a meaty book, an incredibly well written book and a book that will make you think. It has some excellent, well rounded characters, it has a deeply involved and nuanced world, it has plenty of questions to keep you involved and it has excellent potential to be a series. It’s original, it’s well balanced, it’s well paced and generally good in just about every way that counts, definitely worth a read
We received a copy of this book through Netgalley