“The Time Roads” that lead nowhere

Time Roads - Dominick Saponaro

The Time Roads by Beth Bernovich
Tor Books: October 14th, 2014 (Steampunk / Science Fiction)*

My rating: False start – did not finish (1/5)

Éire is one of the most powerful empires in the world. The Anglian Dependencies are a dusty backwater filled with resentful colonial subjects, Europe is a disjointed mess, and many look to Éire for stability and peace. In a series of braided stories, Beth Bernobich has created a tale about the brilliant Éireann scientists who have already bent the laws of nature for Man’s benefit. And who now are striving to conquer the nature of time.

I included the published synopsis instead of writing my own because of the biggest problem I had with this book – I couldn’t figure out what was going on. How does time travel actually work? What happened to the mathematician that supposedly discovered time travel? Who are the other mathematicians who figured it out? Which timeline is it, really? The disparate plot arcs and storylines feel like the “time fractures” that the mathematicians in the know describe. Chapters jump from one narrator to another, and possibly one from one timeline to another. First, we follow the crown princess of Éire, who, as a young girl, watches a fascinating scientist prove that time travel is possible. Then, the princess has become queen, and there’s some unrest and conspiracy plotting. The next narrator is a young student at the local university who is kind of going crazy over esoteric mathematical problems. After that, suddenly the Queen’s servant – Constabulary investigator, royal adviser, and spy, is in Vienna hunting traitors. Fractured and disconnected, I couldn’t figure out which timeline was which, because it’s never explained. From each of the characters we get a feeling of déjà vu or missing time, but never any explanation of how that fits into the whole timeframe(s).

Aside from not spending any significant amount of time with any of the narrators, none of the characters felt real. Readers are told that the Queen and her investigator fall in love, but the development happens over very few pages, and there’s no real explanation or reasoning behind it. With only a throw-away mention of her father taking mistresses and some verbal approval for her to take her own lovers, she falls into bed with the mathematician she saw demonstrate time travel in the first episode. It’s very hard to see any of the characters as real people. The mathematician narrator, the guy I called Simon (his name is Gaelic, and without any pronunciation guide, I had no idea how to pronounce Síomón), had a realistic, deep connection to his sister, living inside her head in a mental asylum. But that’s the only time emotion that felt believable to me. What I didn’t like about Simon’s narration was his descent into madness. It felt very Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, and distracted from the steampunk/science fiction themes.

Overall, the plot and storylines were fragmented and confusing and the characters fell flat. I made it to just over fifty percent before deciding I had no interest in trying to figure out how all the pieces fit together. I had too many questions without answers, and too little motivation to continue reading.

*Advance review e-copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley

Better reads

If you want to read really great time travel books, with fully realized and scholarly theories of time travel, great characters, and convincing world-building, try this one:

And this one, about immortal scientists who travel through time to save extinct species:

Looking for your next great steampunk? Check out this first in a trilogy about Sherlock Holmes’ magical niece:

Or this amazing graphic novel about a young misfit woman who discovers she has a great destiny in creating technology:

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