I was contacted by the publicist about this one – knowing my proclivity for books related to time, I was especially pleased to see it in my inbox. There is a great construct here – I really like the idea of “guides” whose job it is to make sure humanity stays on track and develops and advances throughout the timeline. This concept raises a lot of interesting questions about God/a prime mover, alternate timelines, predestination, historical integrity, fate, and choice that I find intriguing. I was immensely curious to see where the author went with the concept, and whether those questions would be raised directly or addressed by inference and interpretation. I dug right in as soon as I received the book, eager to see what would develop.
It took me a while to get into, I must admit. There are two distinct narrative tracks – one is a jump-skip through the highlights of human history and scientific development (starting with Ice Age man, a character you don’t see often in contemporary fiction, to say the least) and the other is a more traditional story about an orphan girl raised in a Maltese orphanage in the current century. I had a hard time with these as back-and-forth concepts for quite a few chapters. I’d just about get into one or the other storyline, and that chapter would end and the other track would kick in. It felt a little like reading short stories, of which I’ve never been a fan… I put the book down and picked it back up a number of times, before Ariane’s story finally developed enough to keep my interest through the historical interludes, and before I started enjoying said interludes purely for the information they presented (since they didn’t seem to be developing into an interlaced story line, beyond the consistent presence of a guide in each). I was clicking along, when suddenly it ended. Literally in the middle of the action (such as it is).
I hate that.
Admittedly, the book says right on the cover that it is Book One, and a little research revealed quickly that it’s one of a trilogy. Knowing that helps a little… But not much. You see, while I love trilogies and series books, and love a good cliff-hanger, I HATE (emphasis most definitely intended) when a book simply ends in the middle of a thought or brand new (or existing) plot point. In my opinion, even series books should be able to be read individually with some sense of satisfaction and completion at the end of each segment. To end in the middle of things is not fair to the reader – it feels like blackmail, like the author is forcing me into another book just to finish the one I already committed to reading. I’ve been known to refuse to read the remainder of series that do this, on principle, even if I otherwise liked the first book. I don’t know how severely I’m going to react in this instance – in large measure it depends on how long it takes for the next installment to be available. That’s a big part of my complaint about books that end in the middle of their story – this isn’t the day of daily (or even weekly/monthly) serial publication in the newspaper; sometimes it takes a year or more for the next book… And sometimes, trilogies/sequels never get written (or published). To stop a book abruptly is unfair to readers, who may literally never know how the story ended. And I’m not talking about a “the lady or the tiger” you don’t know how it ends because you’re supposed to decide for yourself; I mean a literal ending without any sense of why or what the options for the ending even are – which I think is frustrating, if not outright infuriating.
With all of that said, Ariane’s story itself is an engaging one. The tale of a little lost orphan making her way in the world was well written and the characters (which is to say, Ariane herself and Sister Ines), while perhaps not as richly developed or complex as I might like, were pleasant and I genuinely cared what happened to them. I’m curious to see where she fits into the tale of the guides – the book opens with her apparently relaying all that comes after to a third party, so clearly there is an important role for her in all of this. I just have absolutely ZERO idea what that role could be. Is she also a guide? Is she in love with Alexander? Is she somehow connected to the mysterious break-off sect headed by the thoroughly under-explained Zardoff? And then there are the larger, overarching, issues and questions I raised earlier, about predestination and the role of history and the source of the guides and their mysterious information about what is “supposed” to happen at various points in history.
There is absolutely no sense of closure in this book, not even an iota of insight into how all the pieces it presents fit together. It left me feeling confused and rather like I spent a great deal of time reading an introduction instead of a novel. If there’s a second book in very short order (i.e., before I start to lose the already fuzzy details), I will give it a try – because of my interest in the concept of the guides, mostly. But if it doesn’t start providing some explanations rather quickly, I will most likely not continue with it…
My review copy was provided by the author.