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Conqueror: Time's Tapestry Book Two by Stephen Baxter
Cover Artist: Chris Shamwana
Review by Paul Haggerty
Ace Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780441014965
Date: 07 August 2007 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Conqueror is the second of Stephen Baxter's Time's Tapestry series of alternative histories. The unknown Weaver is at it again with a new prophecy which hints at things to come centered around the showings of Halley's comet every 76 years or so. Like the previous novel in the series, Conqueror jumps through time periodically, so just as you get use to a set of characters, they're suddenly dead and replaced by their distant descendants. But they all have one thing in common. The need to correctly interpret what the prophecy says about the turning point they live in, and how it will all lead to a great empire, a new Rome, built in the north and spanning the known world and beyond. An empire, which does not exist in our history, but seems to hinge on the Battle of Hastings in 1066 AD.

Conqueror starts two hundred years after its predecessor, Emperor, and the delivery of the new prophecy, now known as the Menologium of Isolde. Already the world of Roman Britain has dissolved, the great cities lie in ruins, and barbarians prowl in the shadows. But the history of Britain is the story of one wave of invaders after another, the Romans being only one of many. The civilized farmers of any given age were the barbarian hordes of the previous century, the the prophecy cares for none of them. Each age is not better or worse than any other, and its only regard is how it will step the world closer to a promised age.

Beginning with Ulf and Wuffa, who travel with the priest Ammanius and his daughter Sulpica from the ruins of Lunden to the the ruins of a border fort along Hadrian's wall where the single remaining copy of the prophecy is said to be held. Then across the ages to the isle of Lindisfarne where monks faithfully copy a version committed to them from the memory of one of the descendants of the original group. Over the centuries the prophecy clings to life, snatched up and carried away from doom, only to pop up just in time to give meaning to world changing events in one of the most famous years of the comet, when Harold and William (and a few thousand warriors) will decide the shape of the world for millennia to come.

While the story is certainly fascinating, I'm still not sure if I'd call it an alternative history, since the events which occur are the ones we're familiar with from our history texts. The only science fiction or fantasy element involved is the existence of the prophecy itself, obviously transmitted in some fashion from some time in the future. And of course, my major frustration with kind of plot line is still the fact that the prophecy needs to be so enigmatic. If you're going to send information back in time, why not speak clearly and distinctly?

Perhaps these questions will finally be answered as history progresses closer to modern times. But in the meantime, these books serve as a refreshing overview of history and give the interesting flavor of how some events and small groups of people can change the course of the world. Because, if the world is going to turn out the way we remember it, the Menologium of Isolde is going to have to be wrong. So is it really a signpost of things to come, a warning of what not to let happen, or just some meddlesome chrononaut trying to adjust things to better suit their wishes?

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