The Emperor Of All Things (The Production Of Time book 1) by Paul Witcover (book review).

‘The Emperor Of All Things’ by Paul Witcover is a diverting story of an alternate eighteenth century London and the battle between our reality and another, governed by that most fickle of mistresses: Time.


Daniel Quare is a ‘regulator’ with the The Worshipful Company Of Clockmakers, who are responsible for overseeing clocks and timekeeping within the United Kingdom. When Quare is dispatched to intercept a valuable pocket-watch from the notorious horologist Lord Wichcote, he doesn’t expect to fight with a thief called Grimalkin nor appropriate a watch that doesn’t tell the time, but does more sinister things to your body instead. On failing to catch the thief, Quare is reprimanded by his boss, Sir Thaddeus, wolf-like leader of the Guild and then by his sponsor, Magnus, who skulks in the Guild’s city offices experimenting with time and timepieces. Once again a fantasy novel grounds its hero in a familiar Bond/M/Q set-up. Feeling more than a little wronged, Quare gets drunk and into a fight, where his real problems begin…

This is a novel that starts a series entitled ‘The Productions Of Time’, so be aware that this novel ends on a cliff-hanger and, as a reader, you’re being ask to invest your time in a book without a resolution. The story that is told, though, is thrilling in parts and often overly-talky in others. As this is the eighteenth century, everyone speaks like Dr. Johnson (or at least Robbie Coltrane’s interpretation of him), calling each other ‘Sir’ and questioning one another’s beliefs in the natural sciences, the sovereignty of England against Scotland and France and how powdered their wigs should be. These conversations tend to drag. The location of the book is better represented. Witcover, a New Yorker, writes London as the bustling city of fun, commerce and intrigue that it was and still is. Pleasingly, though, not all the action takes place in the capital with one third of the book is given over to adventure and terror in the Austrian mountains. It’s a neat way of structuring the novel and prevents one from getting London fatigue.

The book is also humorous. Magnus designs many clockwork inventions that have names we would recognise today, for example a clockwork contraption for travelling between storeys is known as a ‘stairmaster’. Witcover also enjoys homages, too. Under London live a subterranean race of ‘true’ Cockneys called ‘Morecockneyans’. One of whom is called ‘Cornelius’ and another ‘Jeremiah’. The joke is a fun one if you spot it, but doesn’t interrupt the plot.

The key issue I had with the book is the ineffectiveness of the book’s hero, Quare. He gets weaker and more unsure of himself as the book progresses. We are promised some redemption for him, perhaps in the next book, but again the reader should take this on trust. By the end of the book, he is literally a spent force. I say literally because I haven’t read a fantasy novel with so many male ejaculations since Playboy’s ‘War Of The Powers’ series or perhaps ‘My Secret Life’ by ‘Walter’. Nearly every time a character encounters something other-worldly, he climaxes. By the end of I was reminded of Charlie Higson’s ‘Oh, I’ve just cum’ character from ‘The Fast Show’.

The book’s imagery and recurring motifs of ticking clocks, unknowable horrors, snow-capped mountains and dimly lit London buildings all add up to a highly atmospheric piece, where both characters and locations seem to be counting down to a doomy reckoning. Thankfully, Witcover doesn’t make the whole setting a ‘clockwork punk’ one and have people zooming about in clockwork airships, rather the conceit is used sparingly and within the boundaries of believability.

Overall, I think I respected ‘The Emperor Of Time’ more than I enjoyed it. Yes there were moments that surprised me and made me smile, but very often I thought the book dragged with conversations that went on perhaps for a couple of paragraphs too long. Perhaps more judicious editing might have made the book zip along a little faster. I probably would read the second book in ‘The Productions Of Time’ but I would probably find something else to read in front of it first. So many books, so little time.

John Rivers

August 2014

(pub: Bantam/Transworld. 571 page enlarged paperback. Price: £ 8.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-857-50159-2)

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