THE MEDIEVALIST by Anne-Marie Lacey (Review)

I have been a committed Richard III supporter ever since I read, many years ago, Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time. (Truth is the daughter of time.) For those of you who haven’t come across that classic of the murder mystery genre, Tey’s Inspector Grant is confined to bed for a long period after being wounded and he passes his time by attempting to solve a very cold crime – the murder of the princes in the Tower. To his surprise, he realises he has no choice but to acquit King Richard of the murders.

The Medievalist is, in a sense, a similar investigation of the same crime, but it is also a love story, and has that in common with two more wonderful novels featuring Richard III, namely We Speak No Treason and The Court of the Midnight King. In both of these stories the heroine is in love with Richard, and in the second there is also an element of time travel (click on the titles to see my full reviews on this site of these two excellent books). In The Medievalist, however, time travel underlies the whole story.

Jayne Lyons is an American student working on her PhD in history who, for no particular reason (other than a family legend that they are descended from King Richard) is convinced that Shakespeare got the whole thing wrong and Richard was neither a villain nor a hunchback. At the newly opened site of Richard’s grave in a car park in Leicester she finds a silver boar pendant, and when she holds it is transported back to the 15th century and the camp of Richard and his army, where – naturally. given the way she is dressed – she is taken for a camp-following whore and accused of stealing the silver boar.

Her adventures during the coming months, leading up to the Battle of Bosworth, make the book an all-night read, and the author’s version of what really happened to the two little princes is at least as likely as any other theory I have come across.

Well researched (by an obviously devoted student of the period and the person) and well written. Highly recommended.

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MARKING TIME by April White (Review)

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 fkight 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 a couple of days (or so it seems!) 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.

DEJA VU by Ian Hocking

Deja Vu cover

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley
in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!

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 October 2014.)

But back to the – (I almost wrote “the Future” there instead of “the grindstone”. 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, in some cases, 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!

ROBERT HEINLEIN

I’ve been rereading some of my grandmother’s old SF. (I read them all in my teens.) Her two favourite authors in this genre were Julian May and Robert Heinlein, and it’s Heinlein I picked up first this time round; one of his Howard Families novels, Methuselah’s Children.

Heinlein Methuselah cover

The Howard Families are the result of an ongoing experiment in – let’s not mince words – eugenics: the selective breeding of a species for one or more traits, in this case of people for longevity. The Howard Foundation actively encourages people from families where living to a 100+ is the norm to marry each other and pays them a large sum of money for each potentially long-lived baby they produce.

What I really like about Heinlein is that whereas most if not all other SF writers would have had this result in either tragedy or catastrophe, implying that these people were doing something wrong, Heinlein passes no such judgement and we find ourselves siding with the Howards when they start reaching ages like 150, 200, and it becomes necessary to hide this from the rest of society, the short-lifers.

However, some of the Howards prefer to be open about it, to “come out”. A mistake. It is not so much the envy and bitterness of ordinary “ephemerals” as the fury of the governing classes, who will stop at nothing to get hold of the Howards’ secret but naturally have no intention of sharing it with the plebs.

The arrests and tortures start. There is, of course, no secret to reveal, but no one will believe that.

Enter Lazarus Long, captain of a spaceship, paying a visit to his native Earth – and, as it happens, the oldest man alive.

Can he save the Howards? Of course he can.

Which brings us to To Sail Beyond The Sunset, the story of one of the earliest groups of Howards, set in the United States towards the end of the 19th Century. A historical novel then, but cross-genre, for it takes place within an SF frame.

Heinlein Sail cover

Maureen, the heroine (who, it turns out, was Lazarus Long’s mother), tells the story of her first life-time as she awaits execution for a murder she did not commit somewhere, somewhen, in the future (approximately 2,000 years hence).

They just don’t write books like this any more, but luckily I have one still to go: Time Enough For Love, which continues the story of Lazarus Long. I’m trying to read it slowly, make it last!

THE PLOT TO SAVE SOCRATES by Paul Levinson

Plot to Save Socrates coverThose of us who love Time Travel (I mean the genre, but the real thing, with a time machine which, at the click of a button whisks you backwards or forwards through Time with a capital T) have been having a lean time of it lately.

I even thought of writing one myself (on the “if you want a job done properly” principle) and got as far as mapping out a story in which I brought Time Travel and Past Lives together, my heroine sorting out problems she had gone through, was still going through (!), in previous lives, but only she, of course, knows that she and they are in a very real sense the same person.

An interesting idea, but I never came up with a good plot and – well, you know, it’s somewhere among my files …

Paul Levinson, unlike me, comes up not only with a great, attention-grabbing idea, but a plot that carries the reader along like a river – or should I say the river of time – in flood, with multiple sub-plots swirling around – I’m getting carried away here myself.

Back to reality. And by that I mean real time. Which in this case is AD 2042, in New York – at the bottom of the first page, page 13. Athens AD 2042, in the top half of the first page, is not real time at all. You will understand that by the time you finish the book and turn back for another glance at the first page as I usually do.

Sierra, a doctoral student specialising in some rather recherché aspect of ancient Athens, I had no trouble at all in identifying with. By the second page I was hooked. And it is on the second page (no messing about here) that Thomas O’Leary, one of her supervisors, hands her a five-page fragment of a hitherto unknown Socratic dialogue.

Naturally, she is sceptical. She is a scholar; Plato is notoriously easy to imitate and there have been other hoaxes.

But when, later, at home, after a hot shower, she curls up on the sofa and reads it through, then in astonishment reads it through again, she knows this is something unique. A visitor to Socrates in his prison during the final hours before he drinks the fatal hemlock (and presumably after the departure of Critias) tries to persuade Socrates to leave and accompany him to life and freedom.

How is this different from Critias’ persuasion?

Well, this visitor, Andros, is a time-traveller, and has with him a mindless clone of Socrates that can be left there dead in Socrates’ place when they leave.

Socrates declines the offer. End of fragment.

But that weekend Thomas O’Leary disappears. And searching for him, Sierra finds herself caught up in the plot to save Socrates.

All perfect, classic SF Time Travel.

But what about the theory? For some reasonable scientific (or at any rate pseudo-scientific) theorising is what distinguishes SF (Science Fiction) from SF (Speculative Fantasy).

Heron, an Alexandrian inventor, who turns out to be (to have been) a traveller from the far future and the inventor of these “chairs”  which carry one through Time, tells Alcibiades that Heraclitus was “one of the greatest thinkers of all time”. (Yes, Alcibiades is in the story, too – he and Sierra fall head over heels and make love at various times – and I mean various different times. You see why I identify with her?)

“Heraclitus recognised that you can never step into the same river, exactly the same river, twice, because new water is always flowing. And yet we are right in thinking there is a reality to the river Maeander, a reality which endures, and makes the river Maeander distinct from any other river, such as the river Cayster. So the river always changes, yet stays the same, has continuity – both are true. […]

“And what is true of rivers, of all existence, is also true of time itself, because time is part of existence,” Heron continued. “I, and others throughout history, have recognised that essential point. And if that is so, then travel from one time to another should be possible, even easy, since, even though time always moves, it also stays the same – stands still, is the same time.”

And as the book moves on, and events have begun to influence the past, to change history, Sierra begins to realise that what they are in fact doing is bringing into being alternative universes, not changing the history of the one she grew up in, the one that existed before she was handed that fragment of dialogue.

For instance, speaking of Alcibiades when she knows he going into danger, she says, “He is dead already, in one universe. I want to make sure he stays alive in this one.”

And wondering what Plato is doing “now”, she asks herself: What had Plato done at this time in the original history – the history of the world she had grown up in, before she had been drawn into this? Not much was known about him in those years.

All this – Herclitus and alternative universes – is metaphysics, though, not science as such. And we are given no inkling of how these “chairs” work or even might work.

A small complaint, from one who is all too willing to suspend disbelief when reading a good story. Which this is, believe me.