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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Charming and slightly weird, 8 July 2005
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This review is from: No Present Like Time (GOLLANCZ S.F.) (Hardcover)
I bought this book fairly soon after publication because I really liked its prequel, Year Of Our War, but felt that it ended a bit suddenly. But No Present Like Time takes the brave stance of deepening rather than answering the questions of Year of Our War. Of course, this also makes it perfectly easy to read if you've not read the prequel.
It picks up 5 years after the close of Year Of Our War, and the central plot focuses upon an expedition to a newly discovered island off the western coast. The ambiguous quality of the Emperor San and his immortal Circle - yes, some people do get to become immortal, but the remaining mortals are ruled fairly brutally - is developed here through a somewhat obvious contrast with the democratically-inclined and peaceful islanders. Having said that, I love the main character, Comet Jant Shira, an immortal with the ability to fly who remains throughout this book an endearing loser struggling to cope with an errant wife and a serious addiction problem. There's also a sweet plot involving the challenge of a mortal to replace the Immortal swordsman in the Circle.
What I liked about this book was the shifting, uncertain backdrop and the deeply realistic characterisation. Swainston has created a world in which not only the physical realities but also the spiritual assumptions made by the characters are fluid and indeterminate. It's strangely not-like other fantasy I've read. I'd highly recommend it if you prefer to focus on character over plot, and if you're not likely to be put off by some deeply dreamlike sequences (cars made out of flesh, anyone?). Like its prequel, this is a strange and complex book, and, like its prequel, I thought it was lovely.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I'm glad there was a second book!,, 12 Nov 2006
This review is from: No Present Like Time (Paperback)
I read "The Year of Our War", the first book in this series, and I was fascinated by the imagination of Ms. Swainston. Creating a world with immortals, insects and such a vast history, with parallel but connected universe(s) as well.

I was unaware that there would be a second book. I am glad I found it. I understand book 3 is in the works and look forward to it.

The second book follows the immortals, specifically Jant Comet the Messenger, to new worlds and old parallel ones. The character development, especially of Jant and Lightning, continue to develop in this installment, as Jant battles doubts about himself and his addiction, doubts about the immortals, and physical enemies both human and non. More of Jant and Lightnings pasts are revealed, as are some of the Emperors past. New areas of the physical world are discovered, and new parts of the parallel worlds with new allies and foes are presented as well.

The conclusion leaves open many angles for the third book, including the return of God who created the immortals, more invasions by the insects and other possible parallel world bleed overs.

This is not your average fantasy. It reads well and quickly, opens the readers imagination, and challenges them to keep up with the leaps. I eagerly await more.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More of the same, 27 Oct 2007
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Mr. S. Crook (Way out west) - See all my reviews
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As The Year Of Our War. More wandering narrative from the 'hero' Jant, more plot threads, more excellent writing in what looks like becoming something of a ground breaking fantasy series.

This is at least as good as the first book if not better. Swainston takes no prisoners, she gives nothing away, and you have to read and pay attention to everything, because sooner or later what was apparently pointless background makes sense of the present narrative. For me at least the book manages a near perfect balance between action, characterisation and description. There's always something interesting going on, and the blend between things we're familiar with from our world and the outright fantasy elements is handled with ease.

Read The Year Of Our War first, if you don't, you'll miss out on the motivation of a lot of the leading characters. Unlike many authors Swainston doesn't organise events to help out new readers by having characters regurgitate events from an earlier volume.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very fine sequel, 13 May 2008
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D. Powell (Reading, UK) - See all my reviews
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The writer can purportedly be gauged more by the sequel than the original. If this is true of No Present Like Time then Steph has shown herself to be a writer of inimitable talent. The amount of questions left open in the first could so easily have been a drowning point, overly laboured, in NPLT and yet the finesse in which the colourful plot is woven, whilst showing further tantalising glimpses of the main characters and their often sordid pasts, slots so neatly into the overall story that it's barely noticed and further enhances the read. To my mind a good book should leave you wanting more and this can be achieved by leaving questions unanswered which is artfully done here whilst closing some others left open from The Year Of Our War. New characters, new lands, new and different battles. A superb job yet again!!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Charming second book in the Fourlands, 18 July 2008
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While the first book "The Year of Our War" ended too suddenly, this second novel seems to have difficulty in finding a focus. There are some strong threads throughout the book, but it's a bit rambling.

However, this isn't a bad thing. There's charm in a book which doesn't oversimplify everything and all events told are well written.

The novel's characters are what really brings this 'fantasy' novel to life and it'll appeal to a much wider range of readers than most books in this genre.

Well worth a read and I'm looking forward to seeing what else Steph Swainston writes.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "No Present Like Time", 3 Nov 2009
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After reading the first three books, I'm utterly devoted to Steph Swainston's faultless writing, beautiful poetry, inspired characters and settings, and her mode of storytelling that is truly delightful.

Some of the best and most original fantasy you'll ever read.

8.5 / 10

David Brookes
Author of "Half Discovered Wings"
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4.0 out of 5 stars Weird and very nearly wonderful., 7 Oct 2012
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A. Whitehead "Werthead" (Colchester, Essex United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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The Fourlands are recovering from a devastating invasion by the Insects. The Emperor San has ordered reconstruction efforts to be undertaken, under the watchful eye of his immortal Circle, but many feel that these efforts are proceeding too slowly. Refugees from the front clog the cities and dissatisfaction is spreading. When the Swordsman Gio is unseated by a skilled newcomer, his resentment fuels the flames of rebellion.

Meanwhile, the Messenger, Comet Jant Shira, is commanded to join an expedition to a newly-discovered land beyond the ocean. Terrified of the sea, Jant can only get through the journey by lapsing back into his drug habit. The new land of Tris turns out to be a wonderful paradise, but the Fourlanders' arrival sparks fear and trepidation...even before an Insect gets loose on the island.

No Present Like Time is the second of four novels in Steph Swainston's Castle series, set five years after the events of The Year of Our War. Whilst earlier events are referenced and provide notable backstory for this volume - such as the characterisation of Jant and several other members of the Circle - the main storyline of No Present Like Time is self-contained.

As before, the novel unfolds in the first-person from Jant's perspective. The book contains three principal storylines: the discovery of Tris and the events that unfold there; the rebellion against the established order led by the deposed Swordsman; and Jant's own personal crisis as he deals with his wife's supposed infidelity and his own resulting lapse back into drug use. There is a feeling of duality to the novel, as the external, large-scale and major events in the outside world impact on Jant's own personal life and emotional development, the epic made personal.

This blending of big events and Jant's own personal issues is more successful than in the first novel, The Year of Our War, which I enjoyed but overall felt was not an altogether successful blending of traditional epic fantasy elements and the New Weird (Swainston is regarded, by no less than China Mieville, as one of the leading authors of that much-debated movement). Here Swainston is much more confident in melding these elements into a much more cohesive whole. She also makes much better use of the Shift, the other-dimensional realm that Jant visits in his drug-induced state. The Shift is a place where sharks can take on a human aspect and drive cars made of animal organs, and where time can be rolled back and forth at will (I suspect this is also the part of the book which Mieville nodded approvingly over the most). However, rather than just being the destination for an excursion to Weirdsville for its own sake, the Shift plays a key role in the narrative, both thematically and practically.

There are some weaknesses. The book features no less than two separate visits to Tris, complete with descriptions of the sea voyages there and back. In a novel that's only 400 pages long, that doesn't give the author much time to pack everything in. The result is that Tris itself feels somewhat under-developed. We don't see any more of it than a single town and the fascinating culture-clash between the democratic, Senate-led Tris and the Empire of the Fourlands, ruled by its immortal god-emperor, is not expanded upon satisfyingly. Also, as the rebellion against the Emperor gets going off-page during the toing and froing across the ocean, it is never really convincingly established either. Swainston does a great job of using it for plot and character purposes, but the thematic chance to really challenge and question the way the Empire is run is not exploited to the full.

Nevertheless, No Present Like Time (****) is a significant improvement over its forebear and is an enjoyable read, packed with satisfyingly fantastical ideas and some excellent character development of both Jant and several of the other major principals. However, some other elements could have done with a bit more fleshing-out. The novel is available now in the UK (as part of The Castle Omnibus) and USA.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Most captivating novel of last 2 years, 21 Feb 2008
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I devour books from this genre and i have to say this and the first book are the best pair for some time. I bought this immediately after finishing the first (you always have a break don't you) and was genuinely gutted that the 2 marked the complete series. Enjoy
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just might change your mind, 20 Nov 2007
I don't read fantasy because I don't like fantasy.
I read this, I liked it.
Try it, you might like it.
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No Present Like Time (GOLLANCZ S.F.)
No Present Like Time (GOLLANCZ S.F.) by Steph Swainston (Hardcover - 21 April 2005)
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