The Time Engine: The Fourth Book of the Moonworlds Saga
by Sean Mcmullen
Review by Ernest Lilley
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765318763
Date: 22 July 2008 List Price $26.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
The fourth book in Sean McMullen's Moonworld Saga shows that history is likely to repeat itself, whether we study it or not. And that the textbooks will be wrong anyway. And that nothing is quite what it seems. At least, these are the realizations that Wayfarer Constable Inspector Danolarian discovers after being abducted into the future, inserted into the past, stranded in the remote past, and generally popped around time like a shuttlecock, tying up loose ends and wresting control of his life from the hands of the gods.
After three books of musketeerish adventures against the backdrop of emergent democracy, or electocracy, in the distant, if medievalesque, future, Wayfarer Constable Inspector Danolarian wants nothing more than to settle down at his favorite pub, where nobody bothers him because everybody knows his name and better than to tempt the law, followed by a rendezvous with his fiancée and some living happily ever after. Unfortunately for Danolarian, neither the gods that have been watching him throughout the story (Fate, Chance, Fortune, Romance, Despair and a host of others) nor the author is about to let him off the hook just yet.
Instead of relaxing with a pint toasting the celebration of his country's first year of electocracy, Danolarian winds up defending one of his company, who happens to be a talking cat, from a glass dragon in the streets outside a brothel, with a glass sword (About the "glass" thing. Let's just accept that we're talking about "technology indistinguishable from magic" here and keep going, shall we?) when he's abducted by a teenage girl with a time machine determined to wreak justice on him from a thousand years hence.
Unfortunately for our hero, it turns out to be justice according to the written histories of the time, which weren't especially faithful to the actual events, and the time travels of Inspector Danolarian and his Constable Cat Wallis take it on the blame in a future that looks pretty much like the day after tomorrow. Though the gutters may be clean, both find the new world pretty horrific, and long for a return to their own time. Fortunately Danolarian has already seen the time engine before, when he ran into himself using it in a previous event...so he's got an inkling that they're not actually stranded.
The inspector manages to convince the girl's parents, most importantly her mother, who invented the time engine in order to fulfill a family trust by going back in time to right a wrong...that events did not transpire the way history depicted them. There's nothing like having a truth machine around when you're serving up the improbable. So off they go to fix a few things that need fixing on a time engine, the inspector, the cat, and the woman, and we're treated to a grand tour of the serie's significant events...from a certain point of view.
The story jumps back and forth in time, or at least back and backer, through a number of settings which would serve pretty good yarns on their own, until at last our boy gets to stand in front of the many gods that have been playing him all along, dragging him off for dreamlike interludes while they chide him for not doing their bidding mostly, for a long overdue showdown. When it comes to meting out overdue justice, our Wayfarer Constable Inspector is clearly the man for the job. Not that doing the right thing is likely to go unpunished, of course.
If you've been on board for the first three books in the Moonworld Saga, you'll no doubt enjoy the wrap up here in The Time Engine but then again, you may find the shifting sands of reality that accompany any storyline with a time machine in it to take something away from whatever has come before. That something is as always, certainty. If on the other hand, you're new to the series, you've nothing to lose. That's a strange perspective to arrive at in the fourth quartet of a saga, and in neither case is it meant to undermine the book, which is quite good. The thing of it is, somehow I missed the story up till now, and come to it from the latter point of view. From where I stand, the book works very nicely by itself, in no small part because the time travel plot device takes the characters back to significant scenes in the previous books.
I think you can safely assume this is the end of the storyline, though there's still plenty of opportunity for more tales in this universe. Sean McMullen's writing voice is as fine as ever, and I definitely enjoyed the tale. The advantage of starting now is that you can read all four books in sequence with nary a pause between, though I found this book comprehensible and enjoyable on its own merits.