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No Present Like Time
Steph Swainston
Gollancz, 317 pages

No Present Like Time
Steph Swainston
Steph Swainston is a qualified archaeologist with a degree from Cambridge and a research degree. She worked as archaeologist for six years, working on the dig that researched the oldest recorded burial site in the UK, before working as an information scientist. The Year of Our War is her first novel.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Year of Our War
SF Site Review: The Year of Our War

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

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No Present Like Time is the immediate sequel to last year's well received The Year of Our War, which I reviewed in these pages recently (and much less enthusiastically than most). This sequel shares many of the good points, but also the weak points, of its predecessor. I regard it as something of a disappointment in that it doesn't do much new, nor really show much improvement.

The action begins about 5 years after the end of the previous novel. The opening sequence is a challenge for the position in the Circle (the Eszai, or immortals) of the Sworsdman, Serein Gio Ami. The challenger wins, taking the name Serein from Gio Ami, and becomes the second new member of the circle in a couple of centuries.

The narrator, as before is the Messenger, Comet Jant Shira, who is quickly sent on a mission with the new Serein and the Sailor, to a newly discovered island, Tris. The island is inhabited by refugees from the former fifth land of the "Fourlands." It is these envoys' mission to persuade the Trisians to join the Empire, but their mission fails, due to the Trisians' satisfaction with their (implausible, I thought) utopia. They also blunder and release a deadly Insect on Tris.

There are essentially three conflicts to be resolved. First is the problem of what to do with Tris. Second is a revolution being fomented by the deposed Swordsman Gio Ami. And third is Jant's concern with his wife Tern's evident unfaithfulness. This book does actually mesh its plot strands better than The Year of Our War, as all three of these strands end up being resolved more or less in parallel.

We are treated to something of a reprise of Jant's issues with his drug addiction, and of Jant's drug-induced trips to the parallel worlds of the Shift. The Shift remains a fascinating and original creation -- but also a bit frustrating. Steph Swainston either does too little or too much with the Shift. That is, relatively little of the book is set there, a pity as it is quite intriguing. But too much of the resolution of the plot depends on something of a deus ex machina from the Shift.

This book does bring to the fore some more detail of the political structure of the Empire of the Fourlands, and some details of its history. Questions are finally raised about the legitimacy and virtue of this political system. All this is to the good, and I suspect that if Swainston plans further books in this setting these issues will be central. But on the whole No Present Like Time shares too many of The Year of Our War's weaknesses and doesn't do enough new. Again, this is not a bad book, but it is a flawed book, by an author certainly worth watching, but one who has not fully mastered her talent yet.

Copyright © 2005 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at http://www.sff.net/people/richard.horton.


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