Saturday 5 September 2020

Dispel Illusion, by Mark Lawrence

This is the third volume in Lawrence's Impossible Times series; the first two (One Word Kill and Limited Wish) were reviewed here in August and December 2019 respectively. These three books constitute one continuous story so the novels – and the reviews – should be read in the right order. 

 I commented before about the author's darkly humorous style, revealed in the very first sentence of Dispel Illusion: "The two saving graces of explosions are that from the outside they're pretty and from the inside they're quick." The young genius Nick Hayes, the narrator and hero of these tales, is busy developing time machines and becoming very rich by sending wealthy but terminally ill people through to the future when a cure might be available. More secretly, he is also working on the much more difficult problem of sending people backwards in time – including himself. He knows that he will do this because he met his 40-year-old self when he was only a teenager; his problem being that his older self died at that time. His other problem being that he is under pressure from a ruthless, wealthy man who has a psychopath as his personal assistant. As in the earlier works, the real-life action is paralleled by the ongoing Dungeons and Dragons game played by Nick and his close friends. 

A consequence of his time-travelling is that the action takes place at several different times. Most of this story is divided between 1992 and 2011, but there are also chapters set in 2007, 2009, 2010, 1985 and finally a return to 1986 when the first volume ended. Fortunately the author flags up the date in each chapter heading, so events are not that difficult to follow. 

As ever, Lawrence's writing is excellent – thoughtful and engaging. The familiar problems of time travel are given a fresh airing, with the older Nick's desperate efforts to ensure that while in the past, he sticks to the exact actions that his younger self remembered him doing, in order to avoid setting up a paradox which would result in a different time-line being created. This involves some amusing circular cause and effect problems. 

These stories constitute one of the best time-travel series I can recall reading. The conclusion contains some unexpected twists and is satisfyingly positive. One strong feature of this series (and, come to think of it, his other books that I've read, though not to the same degree) is that the main plot driver is love. Not the slushy, hearts and flowers, Mills & Boon sort of passion, but the development of a realistic and entirely credible relationship between the hero and his girlfriend. She has the last word, too, in a final twist which left me smiling. What more can you ask for? 

Impossible Times is a self-contained trilogy, but mention is made of another two volumes to come, so maybe he will be writing a second trilogy?

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