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“No Present Like Time” by Steph Swainston


Steph Swainston’s second book was a sequel to The Year Of Our War. Although No Present Like Time isn’t a direct continuation of the first book’s plot it does feature the same setting and characters.
The War with the insects is under control (for the moment, at least) and it should be a time to relax for Comet and the other Immortals responsible for the newfound Peace. However, some drastic changes are about to occur to Comet’s comfortable existence.

The catalysts for the change are two near-simultaneous events. First Gio Serein, the castle’s Swordsman, who has held his position for centuries, is defeated in a challenge and displaced by a young man inexperienced in life, but with a great talent for duelling. Gio is incensed by his humiliating defeat and, faced with the prospect of losing his immortality and dying in a mere few decades, insists he should be returned to his rightful place as the best Swordsman. When the Emperor is unsympathetic, he leaves to try and raise a revolt against the Emperor and his former immortal colleagues in the Circle.

Meanwhile, the world is reacting to the news that a new inhabited island has been found, called Tris. This is shocking to the people of the Fourlands who believed they were alone in the world, and the Emperor quickly despatches a couple of ships to make contact with the people of Tris to try and bring them into the Empire.
Comet, the main character in this novel, as in “The Year Of Our War”, is none too pleased to be tasked with accompanying the ships on their long ocean voyage to Tris. For one thing, he is terrified of the ocean and of drowning, he is fighting a resurgent addiction to the drug which allows him to shift out of reality to the bizarre world of Epsilon and he is also suspicious that his wife is having an affair with the world’s Strongest Man.
It is meant to be a simple voyage of exploration, but when they reach Tris things quickly go wrong. The people of Tris with their unusual method of government (something called ‘Democracy’ which Comet finds inexplicable) aren’t keen on joining the Empire and some of Comet’s fellow immortals turn out to have their own agenda. As a series of diplomatic blunders turn the people of Tris against them, Comet also begins to suspect that there may have been more to the sudden discovery of Tris than was previously suspected.

After the excellence of “The Year Of Our War”, I was really looking forward to Swainston’s next book and this doesn’t disappoint. It isn’t quite as good as its predecessor – the prose isn’t quite as polished, the plot isn’t quite as compelling and the thrill of discovering a highly original new world is largely missing. It is easy to get the impression that Swainston may have spent a bit more time on her debut novel than the sequel, but that doesn’t mean “No Present Like Time” is a poor book, it is still very good.

Comet is still a likeable, if extremely flawed, character and the surrounding characters, both old and new, are both interesting and well-portrayed by the author. The Fourlands (and Epsilon) are still highly-original pieces of world-building and we get to see a bit more depth this time, with less of a focus on the destructive Insect War.
In summary, this is a good book. Not as stunningly brilliant as Swainston’s debut novel but still a highly entertaining read.

Rating : 8 / 10

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