Saturday, 1 March 2014

Review: Timebound

Timebound by Rysa Walker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In last year's Amazon Breakout Novel winner, the green-eyed, martial-arts-trained heroine discovers she has unusual powers, loses her family, is infodumped to by a mentor she doesn't completely trust, and must choose between two love interests. She alone can fight against the shadowy villain's plan for world domination and global apocalypse.

Despite hitting so many YA cliches, this is a reasonably fresh and certainly entertaining story. It's also well edited. I found only a few minor errors: a missing quotation mark; the mangled cliche "if worse comes to worst"; a late-19th-century Irish child using the word "cool" in the modern sense; and (in the afterword) "illusive" used where the author means "elusive". Otherwise it was remarkably clean, a credit to Amazon's editors.

While it is set up as science fiction, the science doesn't bear close examination, particularly the genetic science. A single "genetic gift" just doesn't make you "good at computers" or predispose you to love a particular avocation, and I'm fairly sure the author misuses the genetic terms "dominant" and "recessive" as well. Nor is the logic of the time-travel devices and their limitations particularly consistent throughout the story. It's basically technology-as-magic, and genetic-gift-as-inherited-magical-gift. The idea that the time travel devices give off light that's seen in different colours by different individuals, and that those who can't use them can't see the light at all, makes no scientific sense, although it's a moderately cool idea. Basically, this is a fantasy given a superficially scientific-sounding skin.

The other setting element I want to mention is the religion founded by the villain as part of his power play. It would have been easy just to base it on a single real-world religion, but it's a blend of a number of elements: the syncretism of the Baha'i Faith, Scientology's ploy of restricting certain knowledge to the higher-level members and prosecuting leakers for copyright violation (though I'm not sure how that works with the foundation date in the early Renaissance), Mormonism's penetration into US public and political life (and social and sexual conservatism), and the hyped materialism with a spiritual veneer that characterises certain "Prosperity Gospel" Protestant churches. I'm not sure that the resulting chimera quite works as a believable religion, particularly the part about being founded at a time when diverging from the local Christian orthodoxy was a guarantee of violent persecution, but simply because it has so many elements from real religions it's believable enough to get by.

I enjoyed the characters, especially Kate, the viewpoint character. Despite her occasional poor decisions (which were emotionally, even if not logically, right), she's smart and capable and determined. Her martial arts expertise doesn't get her out of as many bad situations as one might expect, though she is relatively low-level, and she does have to be rescued by a man on one occasion, but she's mostly self-reliant and competent within the limitations of her knowledge, resources and maturity.

There's an interesting contrast between the two love interests. One specifically refuses to sleep with her on ethical grounds, although she offers, while the other mentions (referring to another woman, not Kate) that it's difficult to turn down a willing woman when you're 16. Kate's father is a decent man, and the other minor characters are easily distinguishable and have believable motivations.

The plot isn't always fast-paced, but it kept my interest throughout. Not every piece of information that gets dropped early on turns out to be significant later, and those elements could be trimmed (though this is clearly intended to be a series, and perhaps they'll be used later).

Overall, on my subscale within the four-star range (where 0 is "just above mediocre" and 9 is "just below amazing"), this scores a 3. Definitely entertaining, shows great promise, but still with some non-fatal weaknesses in pacing and worldbuilding.

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