A few years have passed since the last big success against the Insects and things are pretty much back to normal, with the big difference that Jant, the Emperor San’s Messenger, is actually clean at the moment. But the calm is disrupted when a challenger to the Emperor’s Swordman appears – and actually manages to take his spot in the circle of immortals. At the same time, Mist – the Emperor’s Sailor – is charged with sailing to an heretofore unknown island and to try and convince them to join the Fourlands ruled by the Emperor. San also orders Lightning (his Archer), the new Swordsman Wrenn and Jant to accompany Mist – much to Jant’s terror as he fears water above all.
No Present Like Time was another wonderful read. The plot may not be the strongest, but I loved the characters, the world-building and the prose. And that is more than enough for me to love the book.
As I said, the weakest point of the book is probably the plotting. Things are slow to start, and the inclusion of the Shift seemed a little forced (especially since it introduced a character as an old acquaintance that I have no recollection of actually meeting – despite having read the first book twice) – although I wouldn’t have wanted to miss the Shift. These parallel universes and their strangeness and connectedness are some of the most intriguing bits about these books. In any case, once things do get moving and the Shift connection is set up, it works beautifully.
The allegory of Tris – the island – as this utopia that is completely destroyed by contact with the outside world felt a little oversimplified. I wouldn’t have minded seeing a couple of downsides to Trisian life even before the Fourlands get in touch with them. It would have made it a more accurate and probably more insightful comment on “discovering” new worlds, on colonialism. But that is a rather minor complaint.
It doesn’t take long for Jant to start using cat again. I usually have very little patience for addicts who managed to get clean and then start using again – that Jant would be one of them was pretty obvious though. For some reason my usual frustration took a backseat when it came to him. Maybe because he isn’t actually all that likeable to begin with, so it was just another thing where I wanted to shake him a bit. And yet I still like to read about him and to see the world through his eyes – a fascinating tightrope walk Swainston manages here. Despite his many shortcomings and failures, there is something about him.
All of this makes No Present Like Time a great successor to an already great first novel – another thing that isn’t easy to pull off and yet Swainston seems to do so with ease.