Book review

Dispel Illusion

by Mark Lawrence

Dispel Illusion by Mark  Lawrence

This is the deftly-written conclusion to the excellent Impossible Times trilogy, and I enjoyed it as thoroughly as the first two. This isn’t a book you can read without having read the first two in the trilogy – the plot line is complicated enough as it is, with several different timelines going on in different chapters, and you’re definitely doing well if you don’t need to read the helpful recap at the start of the book.

It’s a book that quite literally begins with a bang – a time-distorted explosion, of course, as it’s a prototype time machine that’s blowing up here.

“The two saving graces of explosions are that from the outside they’re pretty and from the inside they’re quick.”

It’s a book about time travel. Time travel as invented by Nick, the lead character, and the real-world implications of that. (My favourite is still that if you travel through time, you are going to also need to travel through space, otherwise when you reappear in your new time, the Earth’s orbit will have moved it from under your feet!) Time travel is, according to mathematics and the laws of physics, perfectly possible:

“The mathematics of time don’t care about ‘now’, they just ask what value you want to set ‘t’ to. There’s a special connection between consciousness and time. Einstein said, ‘Time is an illusion’, and the great Douglas Adams had even greater doubts about lunchtime.”

That reference to a Douglas Adams line is one of the reasons I loved this book, by the way. I grew up very much in the era in which this book is set, and I love all the references to the culture that Nick grew up with. I also played Dungeons&Dragons enough to get the references there, so this was always going to give this book a +3 in the saving roll against my affections. I also grew up in the early days of the World Wide Web, so references like this make perfect sense to me:
I didn’t have time to write any code but the machine linked into the World Wide Web and the Lynx browser enabled me to navigate through literally hundreds of pages of information held on computers all across the planet. Well, mainly in America.

Of course it’s also a book about friendship, and how that changes through time and space. The group of friends we met in the first book are still together – and still playing the same epic D&D campaign that they started in their youth. But they’ve grown up, and grown into their respective characters. One of the nice things is how the tone of the narration has changed very credibly, as we moved from Nick as a teenager in book 1 through to threads of his adult life in the current volume. Although he’s in many ways the same Nick underneath, he’s definitely grown up in this book, and more able to deal with the situations in which he finds himself. Growing up will do that to you:

“Always the child standing there wearing an old man’s clothes, an old skin hanging from old bones, and wondering where the days went, remembering how marvelous it had been to fritter away so many slow and sunny days. And wanting more.”

It’s also a book about enemies: again, the bad guys follow you through time, both forwards and – if you give them a chance – backwards. Miles Guilder is still funding Nick’s research, and he’s still not a nice man. Charles Rust is still very much present as Guilder’s heavy, and he still very much does not like Nick. The interactions with these two drive much of the plot of the book, in ways that are foreshadowed in the earlier volumes, but still reveal in surprising and clever ways in this book.

And Mr Lawrence writes some beautiful lines, here as in all his books, that do such a great job of revealing our shared humanity, even in very tiny ways.

“The stories of our lives don’t behave themselves; they don’t have clear beginnings, and even death isn’t a clear end. We just do what we can, we take what kindness and joy we find along the way, we ride the rapids as best we’re able.”

I loved this book. I perhaps loved the first in the trilogy even more, because it caught me by surprise, but there was so much of that spirit still in here that it’s a solid five stars all the way for me.

Book review

One Word Kill

by Mark Lawrence

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How much did I like this? Well, I didn’t enjoy it, I loved this book genuinely, straightforwardly, and, well, just tremendously!

I didn’t read anything in advance that gave me much of a clue as to what to expect, other than it vaguely involved people playing Dungeons & Dragons, at least somewhat, and it was a bit reminiscent of Ready Player One, which was my book of the year, back in the day. All of these were true, to be fair – the heroes in this tale are young adults, they play D&D, and it’s set in the 1980s. But I don’t think that makes it YA fiction, any more than it makes it “Ready Player 0.5” or something – or actually more precisely I don’t care, it was just such straightforward fun!

I’m not going to say much more than this, because SPOILERS. One of the things I really liked was that the style of writing – I found it compelling, dragging you along by the scruff, so that I had no idea what might or could happen. It caused me to read it all in a bit of a charge, and all the better for that I think. At some point I realised this was part 1 of a trilogy, so it’s not a huge book to get through in any case. The 1980’s period detail was excellent, and all the characters were well painted (although I think I ended up with less of a feeling for what was going on in Simon’s head than the others’).

One warning: there is a thing going on with cancer in this book (not really a spoiler, as you find this out in the first couple of pages). Having been through chemo myself eighteen months ago, I found the first 25 pages or so to be tough going in parts, and wildly evocative for me. Very well written, which is what made it tough going. If that’s you, stick with it, because it’s worth the ride.

Here’s what the narrator has to say about this:

To be honest, though, two minutes after being faced with a diagnosis of leukaemia is not the ideal time to have someone establish that when the medical profession says ‘cured’ it means ‘survived five years’.

Mark Lawrence has a great ability to sketch out a character in a line or two – here’s the key to one of the narrator’s friends, with an aside that also points to the witty narrative:

He knew pi to more decimal places than any sane person would want to. I sometimes joked that it was an irrational feat of memory.

Well worth the five stars, and I can’t wait for the next one!