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Imaginative ideas, but didn't quite work for me

Timepiece - Heather Albano

Timepiece, by Heather Albano, was an experiment for me into a sort of steampunk plus time travel experience. A little to my surprise, it was set overtly in a very recognisable version of our own world, beginning on the day of the Battle of Waterloo. As the story progressed it became clear that other fictional elements had been woven into the plot, most notably from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. I suppose that I had expected something set in an invented world, or at least one in which the divergence from our own history had happened sufficiently early that there were many more differences.

As it was, I did not find the basic premise compelling. It seemed altogether too easy for Heather to inventively write her way out of problems, and I felt that difficulties raised early on were side-stepped later. Certain constraints in the time travel part were set up, but did not seem to be followed through consistently if the plot seemed to require otherwise (for example, being in two places at once at the same time, or whether or not it was possible to revisit a time already accessed). On the one hand, the world was too much like ours, but on the other, there were too many added ingredients to know where things stood.

Like several other books I have read recently, it is just the first part of a story, and it finishes rather abruptly, almost in mid-narrative. To some extent this incompleteness is signaled by clues dropped quite skilfully into the storyline. Certain relationships are suggested but then left unresolved. As reader, you begin to suspect that these clues are building into a pattern, but the characters remain ignorant of this. Perhaps they will become aware of the pattern in the next volume, which I am guessing is going to see the main characters try and resolve the problem that they were left in at the end of Timepiece - it's something of a `three wishes' plot where at each stage the central couple have to try to sort out the problems that were created last time. At any rate, this device of simply halting the story mid-flow did not endear me to the book, and has not left me eager to pick up the next one: instead I felt frustrated that it was left incomplete.

The book necessarily handles some science / technology plot components as it goes along, and I had mixed feelings about these. Some felt about right for the early to mid 19th century, but others felt out of place. But then, if you're writing about a parallel universe maybe it's fair game to just swap things around? I wasn't sure, and I think on balance I prefer dealing with the actual history of our own world, and the problems faced by people in it. From conversations with others I am aware of how hard it is to create a convincing imaginary world. In the world of Timepiece, I was never sure that I actually knew what the rules and boundaries were, and they seemed rather fluid as things moved along.

One of Heather's main interests is clearly to explore how people from one era might cope with a culture reasonably close to their own - in this case about 70 years. That is an interesting endeavour - it's almost within the protagonists' lifetimes, but with enough changes (quite apart from the time travel stuff) to make for some unexpected dissonance as well as reassuring familiarity. This worked well for a while, but it seemed that having gone into changes of costume, and some aspects of the role of women, Heather dropped back into differences more to do with social rank than cultural development. I would have enjoyed something further along the original lines.

Technically this is yet another book where kindle features have not been properly coded. The the hardware navigation works, and there is an HTML TOC, but this has not been fully integrated and you cannot `goto' table of contents. However, the content of the book has been carefully proof-read and is nicely laid out.

Timepiece is undoubtedly imaginative, but for me it slightly failed to reach a target, resulting in my four star rating. I do prefer books about the real past of this world, but am quite happy to delve into imaginary or parallel places... so long as the ground-rules are clearly set out and maintained. Alternate history books are a fascinating look into unrealised possibilities, but I did not find this one very compelling. Having said that, I am sure that readers who click more with steampunk than I do will have a great time with Heather's book, and appreciate its particular flavour more than I did. Worth a look, if this is a genre you enjoy.