The Time Roads by Beth Bernobich (book review).

The Irish Empire takes the place of the traditional British Empire in ‘The Time Roads’, an alternative history/steampunk tale from Beth Bernobich, set at the turn of the 20th century when European geography and politics are almost familiar yet convincingly different. The book is made up of four linked novellas, three of which have been previously published in separate venues and which build together to create an intriguing plot that involves murder, time travel, espionage and mathematics.

‘The Golden Octopus’ is set in the court of the Irish Queen Áine who becomes intrigued by the work of scientist Breandan Ó Cuilinn and his investigations into sending objects through time. A series of gruesome murders occur in the background, centred around the city’s university and the Queen sends her bodyguard, Commander Aidrean Ó Deághaidh, to investigate. There’s an almost fairytale quality to the story, mixed with a steampunk aesthetic and an undercurrent of Holmesian darkness. It soon becomes clear that messing about with time will have complex and unforeseen circumstances.

‘A Flight Of Numbers Fantastique Strange’ focuses on university student Siomón Madóc as he struggles to cope both with the murders of several fellow mathematics students and with the mathematically-centred insanity of his younger sister. His encounters with Aidrean Ó Deághaidh, his inability to account for his own actions and the gradual insertion of duplicate memories into his life start him questioning his own sanity. The confusion and bizarreness are well-handled by Beth Bernobich, leaving the reader continually puzzled, always guessing, but with the promise of something more complex going on in the background.

The story moves away from Ireland in ‘Ars Memoriae’ in which Aidrean Ó Deághaidh is sent by the Queen on a mission of espionage to Montenegro. There’s quite a slow start to this section while Commander Deághaidh gathers information from various palace officials and prepares for his journey. By the time he departs the palace, I was still none-the-wiser as to the purpose of his mission and he didn’t appear much clearer than I was. This section brought back fond memories of Dave Hutchinson’s ‘Fractured Europe’ books as Aidrean Ó Deághaidh travels by various means through several countries and regions while leaving a false trail, changing identity and sneaking around gloomy cities in the dead of night. Things only gradually become clearer, but it’s an enjoyably complex mystery that unfolds.

The fourth section is also entitled ‘The Time Roads’ and ties together the disparate threads from earlier in the book. Queen Áine continues to work for peace in Ireland, in the Anglian dependencies and the wider world, while dissidents and traitors plot murder and destruction. The scientists investigate time fractures while Commander Deághaidh looks into time-bombs and civilisation balances on a knife-edge. It’s a nicely-balanced conclusion, with technology and intrigue inhabiting a convincing pseudo-historical setting.

The whole book is a satisfyingly original piece of work, using many recognisable elements mixed together with an Irish steampunk flavour. The four separate stories complement each other well and are able to stand alone while each of them adds to the overall tale and incorporates elements and characters in common. An enjoyable and entertaining read.

Gareth D Jones

November 2017

(pub: TOR/Forge, 2014. 302 page small enlarged paperback. Price: $15.99 (US), $18.50 (CAN), £17.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-7653-3125-0)

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One thought on “The Time Roads by Beth Bernobich (book review).

  • I personally think the world with an Irish Empire is the real one and we live in a weird alternative timeline. It’s the only sensible conclusion.


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