I am re-reading this story and enjoying it even more the second time than I did the first time – so am re-posting this review for any of you who didn’t see it first time round.
Saira Elian is a 17-year-old Californian girl whose English mother disappears while Saira, a solitary parkour free-runner and tagger (hope I got that right!), is out doing her thing in “the tunnels” somewhere under LA. Faced with the Child Protection Services unless she can name a relative who will take responsibility for her, Saira reluctantly tells them about someone in England.
That someone was waiting for me when I stepped off the British Airways flight in London: Millicent Elian. I hadn’t seen my grandmother since I was three years old […] My mother couldn’t stand her. Not a big surprise given the way she was sizing me up, probably wondering if I was worth the effort. […]
“I see you got his height.” Millicent’s tone was not flattering.
“Hello, Millicent.” I knew I should be more polite and call her “Grandmother”, considering she just kept me out of foster care, but she hadn’t really earned the title.
“And his manners, too, obviously.”
“I wouldn’t know.”
“I have a car waiting.” Of course she did. Millicent’s fancy gray Rolls Royce waited at the curb outside the airport, and her fancy gray driver held the door open for us.
“Home, Jeeves,” she said with total authority.
“Jeeves? You’re joking.”
“I don’t joke.” Millicent’s expression didn’t change.
Jeeves caught my eye in the rear-view mirror and very slowly, he winked. It wasn’t much, that wink, but it was something.
It turns out that the Elians are a family of time-travellers, and Saira’s mother, who is normally gone for only what seems to be a couple of days is now being held against her will in Victorian London. And that, of course, is where half the story, and most of the adventure, takes place.
One aspect of the story that fascinated me was the love between Saira and a young man in Victorian times who had already known Saira in the future in her own time and fallen for her there – or should that be “then”? He, of course, doesn’t know about this yet, and she can’t tell him because the secret of how he came to be still a young man all those years later is just – well …
I’ll leave it to you to sort all this out when you read the book, and add only, by way of encouragement, that while the ingredients may not be entirely original (there’s Hogwarts here, and Ann Rice, and Jack the Ripper, and Time Travel) the resulting dish is something different from the usual run-of-the-mill YA, and I enjoyed every minute of it.
A short novel – 30,000 words or so, hardly more than a novella – by one of the grand masters of the genre.
In Thebes of the Hundred Gates, the Time Service in Home Era (like NOW) sends a young “volunteer” (none of the more experienced operatives will touch it) back to ancient Egypt in search of two of their own who overshot the mark and got lost in time a year and a half earlier. Now Service backroom-boys have managed to pinpoint them in Thebes – Thebes at the height of its splendour, under Amenhotep III, the great pharaoh whose son, Amenhotep IV, better known as the arch-heretic Akhenaten, husband of Nefertiti, attempted to reform the Egyptian religion.
Edward Davis, our all-American-boy hero, materialises in the heat and dirt of a secluded back alley and immediately falls ill. Not because of the filth …
Two donkeys stood just in front of him, chewing on straw, studying him with no great curiosity. A dozen yards or so behind him was some sort of rubble-heap, filling the alley almost completely. His sandal-clad left foot was inches from a row of warm green turds that one of the donkeys must have laid down not very long before. To the right flowed a thin runnel of brownish water so foul that it seemed to him he could make out the movements of giant microorganisms in it, huge amoebas and paramecia, grim predatory rotifers swimming angrily against the tide.
But he had been inoculated against anything Thebes might come up with. No, it was temporal shock – it’s like “a parachute jump without the parachute“, they had told him, jumping so far uptime, “but if you live through the first five minutes you’ll be okay.” He had been back 400 and 600 years before, but never anything like this.
He loses consciousness; and when he wakes up, finds himself in a temple, in the capable hands of Nefret, Priestess of Isis. However, she seems only to want to be rid of him, and as soon as he recovers, arranges for him to live and work among the embalmers, the mummifiers, in the necropolis on the other side of the Nile.
It is a refuge for which briefly he is grateful, but it turns out that he is little more than a slave there and the overseers have whips and he has only thirty days – twenty-eight left now – before his rendez-vous for pick-up at exactly midday back in that alley. How can he hope to track down the missing time travellers from there, stranded on the wrong side of the river?
A wonderful glimpse, not only of the world of the future where chrononauts travel uptime and back downtime – it is still, obviously, the early days of time travel – but also of the past, of Thebes of the Hundred Gates, teeming with people, all of them, in the childhood of the world, concerned with only one thing: death, and the afterlife; and reincarnation.
This little book is perfect.
The story opens with Saskia Brandt arriving at the EU Federal Office of Investigation building close by the Brandenberg Gate in Berlin in September 2023 after returning by Eurostar from a trip to London where she broke up with her English boyfriend Simon.
(There is no guarantee that Eurostar will still be running – the tunnel seems to me an easy target for terrorists – or that the Brandenberg Gate – or even Berlin – will still be there in 2023, but they probably will, for 2023 is not far away. Which leads me to wonder about the wisdom of setting a futuristic piece in so near a future. I hope I shall still be writing this blog in and after September 2023, and I can imagine avid readers coming upon this post in, say, September 2024 and failing to realise that this story was set in the future. Think “1984” etc. So let me just point out that I am writing this review in January 2019)
But back to the – (I almost wrote “the Future” there instead of “the review”. It may have been a dream I had last night. I never remember my dreams but know I have been dreaming and often suspect that the contents or setting of a dream are lingering in my subconscious. Who knows what dreams may return to haunt our troubled musings?)
But now, seriously, back to the review.
So, Saskia returns from England to find her secretary dead and stuffed into the refrigerator.
(Do you think there is any connection, causal or otherwise, between my reading about scenes like this in books like this – which I do all the time – and the dreams I imagine I have?)
She also very quickly finds that she herself is being framed for the murder.
But this is not your average straightforward murder story. It transpires that she never went to London at all, never had an English boyfriend called Simon, that all this was a “memory” planted in her mind by means of a microchip, and that she is not being framed at all. She was there. She committed the murder.
Beckmann, her immediate superior, says: “Oh, Frau Kommissarin. You are so worried about being caught for your secretary’s murder. You think they’ll wipe your brain. It’s too late. They already did.”
Then they convince her that she is – was – a convicted murderer whose brain was wiped and the persona of Saskia Brandt implanted to replace the original. The mind and memories of Saskia Brandt inhabit and control the body of the condemned woman.
She is now Saskia Brandt, and because of this staged murder, and because of the microchip in her head – which Beckmann has a remote control for and can operate, operating her – she has no choice but to obey.
Then she is sent on the mission to which all this has been a prelude. And that is fine, a great introduction to the story.
Problems arise, though, when we are presented with too many other relatively major characters, each with their own point of view, and what is in effect their own story, at least during the first half of the book until the various stories start coming together. And this is not helped by the fact that some of these stories are set in the past when Professor David Procter of Oxford University committed a murder at a research facility in Scotland some twenty years earlier. Or is he, too, being framed for committing a murder he did in fact commit?
Or the stories are set in a present that was prearranged by people in the past, twenty years ago. Anything that happens may be happening because someone travelled forward through time twenty years ago and arranged for it to happen … Nothing in this book is what it seems.
But I am giving away too much.
Though difficult to follow at first due to the abrupt changes of setting and point of view, the story is well plotted, while the characters, if somewhat stereotyped, are rounded and convincing, especially in the case of Saskia, whom I identified with from the very first page. The body in the fridge shocked me almost as much as it did her!
“It’s not our abilities that show who we really are, it is our choices.”
Let me first say I like the dedication! It has two very nice touches.
So. We start in the Prologue with a scene set in a dystopian future “a few years from now”. The narrator, Isabel, is trying to buy a gun in exchange for some pepper (money is no use any more). She hasn’t a clue about guns and is completely in the hands of the repulsive seller, but a gun will protect her from would-be rapists, she hopes, having just been miraculously saved from one by a friendly dog.
Dystopia? This is hell on earth.
When the story opens, ten months earlier, we learn that world-wide catastrophe is imminent and that no one seems able to do anything to avert it. However (there is always a “however” in stories – I hope there will always be one in real life!) a top-secret prototype time-machine exists and it just may be possible for someone to go back in time and effect one very small alteration that will prevent this particular catastrophe from ever taking place without causing other changes that might themselves be disastrous.
Much frantic research finally reveals that a young man and a young woman broke up some twenty or so years previously and that if they had only stayed together this would have made all the difference. Now forty-year-old (but still very attractive) Isabel must go back, find young Diego, whom she of course remembers and is still in love with, but who has not yet even met the young Isabel, and persuade him that when he does eventually meet this other, younger, Isabel, he must at all costs stay with her, not leave her.
What could possibly go wrong?
A great story, and one of the best books I read this summer, Crossing in Time is the first in a five-book series collectively entitled “Between Two Evils”. I have downloaded the second and shall probably go on to read all five.
I took this very nice idea from mrsrobinsonslibrary.wordpress.com – please visit her there to see her A-Z.
Now for mine …
A – Author you’ve read most books from: Paul Doherty, without question. I’ve read one or two of his books set in ancient Egypt and I like and recommend his books set in the Rome of Constantine the Great and Helen – see for example my review of Murder Imperial and The Song of the Gladiator – but it is his medieval mysteries I am addicted to. They consist, apart from one or two stand-alones, of three series, each its own little world within a world and quite unforgettable: The Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother Athelstan; the Hugh Corbett Medieval Mysteries; and the Canterbury Tales of Murder and Mystery. The links are to my reviews of one of the books from each series.
B – Best sequel ever: for me, this has to be The Lord of the Rings, originally conceived and written as a sequel to The Hobbit. It won my vote for Book of the Century in the year 1999.
C – Currently reading: I’ve just started on Shepherds by J. Drew Brumbaugh. I’ll review it when I’ve finished it. (The review is now posted HERE.)
D – Drink of choice: While reading? A cuppa – a nice cup of tea, English style.
E – E-reader or physical book? I’m growing accustomed to my Kindle Reader, and it is much lighter (less strain on the wrists!) than the hardcover editions I love. Cheap paperbacks I’m not fussed about and I rarely buy new ones now, though I do buy secondhand ones when I come across something I fancy by chance somewhere.
G – Glad you gave this book a chance: there have been many, but a good example would be Dune: House Atreides, and all the rest of the books written by Frank Herbert’s son Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson and set in the Dune Universe. People were sneering about that first one, but I gave it a chance and have since read all their Dune books.
I – Important moment in your reading life: Coming across Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael quite by chance (I think it was One Corpse Too Many) triggered my lifelong love of the Medieval Mystery.
J – Juvenile favourite. Mine is probably Kim (see “F” above) but there are many others I love, from Hans Anderson’s The Snow Queen and Kingsley’s The Water Babies to the Harry Potter series and the His Dark Materials trilogy.
K – Kind of book you won’t read: books by illiterate “authors”, either unedited or “edited” by illiterate “editors”.
M – Major book hangover because of: Lin Anderson’s Easy Kill. Read my review of it here and you will see why it moved and upset me.
N – Number of bookshelves you own: Six bookcases, and books everywhere. (But my Kindle is definitely easing the pressure!)
Q – Quotes that inspire you: Here are a few I like
I have often thought if one could impart the doings of mankind to a rose, the only thing it would understand would be the sweet drawn-out lovemaking of a drowsy afternoon. (The Silver Wolf)
Chastity – the most unnatural of all the sexual perversions. (Eyeless in Gaza)
A face devoid of love or grace,
A hateful, hard, successful face …
I find art easy. I find life difficult.
We did everything adults would do. What went wrong? (Lord of the Flies)
R – Reading regrets: My TBR list grows longer and longer while the reading time left to me in this life grows shorter by the day.
S – A series you’ve started and need to finish: Shakespeare’s plays! There are still several I have neither read nor seen.
T – Three of your all-time favourite books:
U – Unapologetic fangirl:
The James Bond novels – and the early, Sean Connery, films.
V – A Villain permanently etched on your brain:
Charles Dickins’ Fagin – in the book and as portrayed by Ron Moody:
W – Worst book habit: Writing notes and comments in books.
X – X marks the spot: pick the 27th book from the left on the top left shelf:
Balthazar – the second volume in Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, another series I love and have read right through three times – and plan to read again!
Y – Your latest purchase: I take this to mean of a physical book, so Yeats’s Ghosts, the Secret Life of W. B. Yeats, by Brenda Maddox (a hardcover, secondhand, but like new). I will let you all know what I make of it!
Z – zzzz-snatcher: The Cold Heart trilogy by Lynda la Plante – three books (Cold Heart, Cold Blood, Cold Shoulder), three nights up all night!
It is rare for a sequel or the second in a series to be as good as the original story, the one that first presented the reader with this new world, these new characters. It is even rarer for it to be better. But The Raven is definitely more exciting, more of a page-turner, than the very good The Sentinel.
Jane Harper has been trapped in Greenland since the close of the first adventure when, unsurprisingly, virtually no one believes her story of what happened to the crews of the whaler and the anti-whaling ship that both sank following a ramming incident and an explosion. Unsurprisingly because the story she tells is replete with thousand-year-old zombie Vikings, and – worse still in the opinion of the media who decide what people shall and shall not believe – zombie polar bears and narwhals and whales.
Now though, the only other survivors, the elderly Captain of the whaler and his son, return to the island where it all began, intent on saving the world from the (alien) parasite that causes this living death, and they give Jane little choice but to accompany them.
I don’t want to spoil the story. I will simply say that if you enjoyed The Sentinel, don’t miss The Raven. And if you haven’t read The Sentinel, then read it first: this book, The Raven, is not a stand-alone.
The title is part of a line from a play (“The Maid of Orleans”) by the German poet Friedrich Schiller: Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.
In the first part of the book, Against Stupidity, the problem of free, clean energy has finally been solved, and the scientist who came up with the solution is universally lauded. Oh, there are a few scientists who consider the whole system, which involves exchanging matter with a para-universe, inherently dangerous, but they are dismissed by everyone as trouble-makers. (And their careers as scientists brought to a dead stop if they dare to speak out.)
In Part II, The Gods Themselves, we find ourselves in that “para-universe”. This is a stunning creation and the book should be read to experience this other world if for no other reason. It is so, so different, yet so, so believable … and yes, of course, the stupid rule the roost there, too.
In Part III, we are on the Moon – our Moon – and again the book would be worth reading just for this depiction of what life on the Moon might be like. This Part is naturally entitled “Contend in Vain”, but with an important question mark: Contend in Vain?
It would be too easy to spoil this wonderful story, so I will simply finish by saying how happy I am to have rediscovered my early love of Isaac Asimov (my grandmother had all his books) and that I plan on re-reading many more of them.
It all starts when an anti-whaling ship rams a whaler off the coast of Greenland and the whaler, instead of turning the other cheek, rams it right back, rather more disastrously. But then the whaler explodes.
How? Why? What happened?
Read it and see. Then follow the adventures of the few survivors on a frozen island inhabited by “draugar”, Viking revenants – zombies under another, older name.
I liked the narrator, Jane Harper, a real kick-ass ex-military-brat, who responds with a sarcastic quip to everything Greenland and the paranormal can throw at her, but I have to say that while I found the story and the setting exciting I didn’t really get any feeling of “horror” – as promised in the subtitle.
As a horror story I would say it fails – 3 stars at most. As a thriller with an unusual setting and a very strong female protagonist, it succeeds – 4 or 5 stars.
So 4 stars.
And I shall definitely read the sequel, The Raven.
The Dune series of SF novels, the original six by Frank Herbert and the many added to the on-going oeuvre by his son Frank and KJA, are spread over many millennia and multiple galaxies (thanks to intergalactic travel, made possible by the mutated space-folding “Navigators”), but always in the background, if not the foreground, is the desert planet of Arrakis. Dune.
When this particular story opens (the second in the Great Schools of Dune trilogy, set thousands of years before Frank Herbert’s original Dune) (see my review of the first in the trilogy, Sisterhood of Dune, here) it is more than a century since the Butlerian Jihad came to an end with the final unexpected victory of people over the “thinking machines” which had enslaved them for generations. Now though, predictably, people have a horror of technology and the Butlerians wage a kind of Luddite jihad throughout the Corrino Empire destroying machines and slaughtering anyone and everyone suspected of being a “machine sympathiser”, people who fear the onset of a Dark Age from which mankind may never recover.
I say “this particular story”, but in fact there are several different stories here, all carried over from Sisterhood of Dune, and all being told at once – something I admit I find irritating and would make the book impossible to read for anyone not already at home in the Dune universe, and especially for anyone who has not read Sisterhood of Dune.
Perhaps the most interesting of these stories is that of the origin of the Mentats, which is central to this segment of the on-going saga though their origin does not occur on Dune despite the title of the book. Gilbertus Albans was reared and educated and given life-extension treatment by the robot Erasmus, and now applies the training he was given by this most advanced and individual of thinking machines to his student mentats at the Mentat School on Lampadas. The Butlerians are very suspicious of him, but tolerate him because they see mentats as the human answer to computers. If they knew his age and background, they would kill him immediately. And if they even suspected that he had at his school the memory core of Erasmus – Erasmus himself, still fully functional …!
As I said before, an absolute must-read for all Dune fans. Enjoy.
I am now about to enjoy the third book in this trilogy, Navigators of Dune.