Publisher: Pyr, 2009
Sub-genre: Alternate history/time travel
Rating: 3 pints of blood
This is yet another case where the cover art appealed to me enough to get me to pick the thing up. There's some fantastic use of colour, our female character is standing in a way easily replicated by someone with a human skeleton, and our premise is pretty clearly stated here. We have three very different young people from three very different time periods coming together in this book, and that has all kinds of potential. Therefore... it is mine!
In the 6th century, a young man named Galaad is having strange dreams, ones full of urgency that centre around a woman dressed in white. His dreams bring him before the legendary King Artor, who believes there's something significant to be found in them. Artor, Galaad, and several of Artor's loyal compatriots head out to figure out what these dreams mean, and come across unexpected and rather fantastical threats.
Just as Britain is about to celebrate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, some unusual killings start showing up in the streets of London. The police are puzzled, which means it's time for Sandford Blank to grab his assistant, the lovely Roxanne Bonaventure, and investigate. The information the two of them dig up lead them to believe the murderer isn't a returned Jack the Ripper, but someone entirely new, someone driven by a much more mystical motivation.
The late 1990s sees rebellious teen Alice leaving her home in the US to discover what her disturbing visions mean. She's convinced she'll find the answers in England, but discovers once she gets there that being alone in a strange city with limited funds doesn't immediately solve her problems, especially when some dangerous and unearthly creatures begin chasing her. She stumbles into a retired spy, who takes her under his wing, but the more Alice sees, the more she has to question her sanity.
This book took me forever to finish, which is not entirely the fault of the book. I kept misplacing it! For awhile it seemed like I couldn't read more than a couple of chapters at a time before discovering that once again, I had to go hunting for it. There were a few times I couldn't find it and started reading something else, which of course meant I'd find my copy of End of the Century again once I got halfway through the new book.
The other thing that slowed me down, though, was the format. There are three distinct stories in here, each trading off one chapter at a time. First there's a chapter of Galaad, then a bit of Sandford, then Alice, then we start over again. The stories have very different feels to them, not just because of the difference in narrator, but because the time periods and even the type of stories being told are so far removed from each other it was like hitting the reset button for every chapter. I'd just get into the swing of things when the chapter would end and I'd have to adjust for a new character telling a completely different story, and they don't start crossing over into each other until quite late in the book. The constant shifting between three stories means the "setting up" part of the book drags on for what seems like forever, since each world has to establish itself and its cast of characters individually, with constant interruptions from the other stories, so none of the plots really start moving until somewhere around the one-third mark.
Each of the stories here has its own charm, and the way the elements connecting them to each other start with subtlety and gradually grow in significance is really quite fun. Galaad's story is probably the strongest of the three, a more traditional swords-and-sorcery fantasy that steals characters from the Arthurian tales and putting just enough of a twist on them to keep them interesting. Sandford Blank's Sherlock impression is a bit more dry, and I enjoyed the "friendly professional" relationship between him and Roxanne, although I generally prefer a little less of the infodump in my murder mystery. I got the impression Roberson wasn't quite sure what to do with Alice, since she tends to spend more time reacting to what's going on around her than setting anything in motion. Once she arrives in London, which is where her story begins, she essentially lets the people around her push her into where she needs to be for the action to happen.
This is a book for someone who wants a leisurely stroll, who doesn't mind waiting for things to coalesce a bit before moving on. It's not going to appeal to someone looking for something with plenty of action. Even the fantasy elements build slowly; at first they're barely there, just a light touch, but as the story deepens, more and more of the fantastical is revealed.
End of the Century is available in trade paperback or as an e-book.