01/11/2008. Contributed by David A. Hardy
pub: Random Static Ltd. 277 page enlarged paperback. Price: $29.95 (NZ). ISBN: 978-0473-12498-4.
check out website: www.randomstatic.net
I asked to review this book because it was one of very few allegedly SF titles and it states on the back cover that this is 'a stand-alone Science Fiction novel' in a long list composed mainly of fantasy. However, I should say at the outset that by any definition that I would accept this is not Science Fiction although it does involve time travel and inter-dimensional war. Confused? So was I. Certainly neither is it fantasy if by that one means dragons, witches, goblins, and magic...
My first thought on seeing the title was, 'Yes, I suppose they do.' But of course there seems to be a tradition in leaving out apostrophes in book titles, as witness 'Howards Way'. It turns out that this title comes from a verse by William Blake: 'May God us keep/ From Single vision & Newtons sleep' (sic). My second thought, upon seeing the strange type or logo at the top of the front cover saying 'Faction Paradox' was to wonder if this was some kind of publisher's imprint or a series title? And here came my first surprise. The reader may already know this and think me ignorant, but it appears that Faction Paradox refers to the 'Dr. Who' novels and it is where a group of rogue Time Lords come from. In a way this is a pity, because this book does stand up perfectly well as a novel - and an extremely well-written one - and some readers could be put off by knowing that it is set in the 'Dr. Who' universe and pass it by.
I did find this book rather confusing at times, certainly convoluted and it is difficult to say what it is actually 'about'. However: it is 1651. A boy sleeps under a tree in Lincolnshire and a dark glob of something falls upon his face. Not a bird-dropping as he first thinks. He climbs the tree and finds in the branches a coal-black, faceless body which has apparently fallen from the sky and which for some reason he takes to be an angel. He kicks it to see if it is alive and it swallows up his foot, his leg, his entire body. His name is Nathaniel Silver (sometimes known as 'Nate') and he thinks he has died, but he is somehow re-born and becomes known as The Master and serves King Charles. When Nate came back from the grave he had been given a luminous white 'egg' which he carries with him wherever he goes in a small wooden box, always hidden which at one point he calls 'the philosopher's stone. Silver acts as a portal for the dead angel, who guides his life and indeed sometimes dominates him against his will. Sometimes there are three or more angels who hold conversations with him. He studies medicine by dissecting bodies, of which there is no short supply and at one point cuts apart the egg itself, forming it into a cube, a long cylinder and a paper-thin sheet which covers his floor. I was never quite sure why. He is befriended by an urchin, Nick Plainsong, who becomes his servant and later assumes a more important role.
There are several storylines and characters. Probably too many. Nate meets several women, such as Ann Brownlow, and there is Alice, an eight year-old girl, who despite her tender years, makes it clear that she is his forever and they do meet up a decade later and make love. Oh yes, there are a lot of sexual scenes in this book (Dr. Who it isn't!). Some of them quite explicit and erotic and some between the same gender. Another storyline involves a female spy known as Aphra or Astraea who works for what is basically the Secret Service and who is haunted by a red-haired angel. There is le Pouvoir from France who seems intent on world domination and is after the secrets of Nathaniel and his egg and will stop at nothing to get them. There is Mistress Piper, whose life has been destroyed by the Plague. There is the Faction Paradox itself, who are human but for some reason wear skull masks and travel to different times in order to resolve paradoxes and other problems which threaten the course of history (hence the Dr. Who connection). They call each other 'Cousin', and a group travel to London in order to rescue a cousin called Little Sister Greenaway from the Plague, not for purely altruistic reasons but because they believe she can help in the battle against creatures from the Homeworld. There are many more.
The problem is that for many pages this book seems to plunge ahead without anything much actually happening, except for long conversations and exposition. Too many new characters keep appearing until one loses track. In effect, we have a series of cameos that are spread across the mid-to-late 17th century, but non-sequentially. Which may be par for the course in a story that involves time travel, but does not make for easy reading! Yet through it all there is the feeling that here is a very good writer and one who hopefully has a lot of better books inside him.
David A. Hardy
Add SFcrowsnest.com daily news updates to your own web site or blog - just cut and paste the code below...
Stephen Hunt's novels - USA