RogerBW's Blog

The Timekeeper Conspiracy, Simon Hawke 16 June 2022

1984 SF, second of its series. The Timekeepers are terrorists who are trying to prevent time travel – by threatening to cause a catastrophic split in the timestream. In France in 1625?

Again, nobody is surprised that there's an actual d'Artagnan and the rest, not to mention an actual Constance Bonacieux and Milady de Winter. (I can't help feeling that someone should be raising objections to the way fictional characters casually exist.) What's more, this time there's no internal time-travel: our heroes travel out at the start, do the thing, and at the end come back again. (Which is not a bad thing exactly, but it's the easiest and laziest way of writing time travel stories, and the first book avoided that.)

One thing further: although Hawke does try to imply that the major villain was fairly mad even before he got himself surgically altered to impersonate Milady, the fact remains that in this book he's the only gay character, and the only character to have sex reassignment, that we meet. So there's that.

But in spite of these problems there's fun to be had here. We see some of the workings of the Underground (mostly deserters from the Time Wars), and even the terrorists are more than faceless villains: there are clear gradations from "we think this whole business of sending soldiers to fight modern-day battles by proxy in battles of the past is maybe not the best idea" all the way to "we are actively trying to provoke the greatest possible catastrophe", and the lines of those gradations don't necessarly coincide with organisational boundaries. Our heroes, who are soldiers by training, get drafted into an intelligence operation, and it becomes clear that their boss has his own goals… but is also their only way home. (And it's clear that when the dust settles even some of those "maybe not the best idea" people are going to be getting quietly arrested, by the "good guys", because it's really very convenient to have an excuse…)

Add to that our heroes getting to interact with feet-of-clay versions of the Musketeers and others, and plenty of action, and the book doesn't outstay its welcome, at least with me. (Also we have the welcome return of Andre de la Croix, the female warrior disguised as a man – it's a long story – from the first book, who develops a very simple system for telling whether people really are from the future: if they find out she's a woman and still treat her as a person, they must be.)

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Previous in series: The Ivanhoe Gambit | Series: Time Wars | Next in series: The Pimpernel Plot

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