RogerBW's Blog

Past Tense, Nick Marsh 19 November 2021

2010 SF/fantasy, sequel to Soul Purpose. Alan Reece has coped with his experiences as the Conduit, a link between this universe and the space outside it, by trying to ignore them. Unfortunately there are things out there that aren't going to ignore him.

Disclaimer: Nick is a friend; we game together and co-host a film podcast. I did not pay for this book. He knows I'm going to give it an honest review.

While I can see that Alan is conceived as a reluctant hero, I felt that keeping him reluctant undermined him somewhat; towards the end of Soul Purpose he overcame his reluctance to be actually heroic, and to drop him back into his previous attitude of hoping the world's problems will go away is to undo the character growth that he experienced then. Indeed, this is much more of a series entry: a problem arises, it's dealt with, but it feels as though the principals end up pretty much back where they started.

Which is a shame, because the actual business at hand is solid: after some gathering tension, Alan and Kate find themselves separately projected to late-Roman Vercovicium, a fort on Hadrian's Wall, in the bodies of people there at the time. (When one of the people they meet is called Lucius Artorius, I thought I knew how this was going to go, but apparently not – thank goodness.) There's plenty of research on the period, some of which is infodumpingly heavy-handed, but the process of our heroes finding out about it is significant to the plot so fair enough – and it's done with care, including a neat demolition of "time-traveller brings miraculous knowledge from the future". There is of course an enemy here, and while the immediate plot involves their killing someone to mess up the future, the reason is a bit more interesting than the usual "they become important and influential later in their lives". (And the Ungodly have sensible reasons not only for doing the thing but for taking a particular approach in the way they do it.)

There's some potentially powerful material about how it feels to occupy the body (and acquire some of the memories and subconscious attitudes) of a slave most of whose life has been unquestioning obedience; unfortunately not much is done with it, because it's Kate who gets that role and she's very much a secondary character this time, really more an object of wist for Alan and an obstruction to the plot through her new body's physical weakness than she is one of the team.

At times the book feels as though it's trying to jump the tracks and be part of a different series, or even a stand-alone story. The world and character backgrounds from the first book aren't particularly necessary for understanding this one, which is largely self-contained. There's enjoyment to be had, certainly, but the process of getting there sometimes feels quite clumsy.

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Previous in series: Soul Purpose | Series: Conduit Sequence

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