Simon Bisson (sbisson) wrote,
Simon Bisson

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A Saturday Lunchtime "Catching Up" Review: Wingèd Chariot

Wingèd Chariot is Ben Jeapes's second young adult novel for Scholastic, and like The Ark lives in that strange borderland between adult fiction and the YA marketplace.

Wingèd Chariot introduces us to the world of the Home Time, a time travelling civilisation. 2000 years from now the technology for time travel has existed for the last 400 years. It will stop working in 27 years, when the singularity that powers the time travel equipment fails. Not surprisingly, the patrician class that runs the Home Time is starting to get worried about how it will be able to entertain its 20 billion citizens, especially when the space civilisations are preventing expansion into space). The mysterious College guards the time streams, and sends agents to make sure that no one creates new parallel histories (at least no more than were accidently opened up by the creator of time travel), and to monitor the progess through time of the Correspondents, individuals sent back to wander through history watching and reporting - individuals who would have been Home Time criminals or psychological failures.

In 5000 BC a senior patrician of the College is murdered in his Himalayan retreat. He's also the person who seems to have the field recorder that a college agent, Rico Garron, is desperately trying to find. It's the first step in the unravelling of a conspiracy that's twisting the lives of a Correspondent interviewing history's most important philosophers, a pair of young biotechnologists press-ganged into the 21st century, and Garron's new boss. It's a plot that is trying to preserve the Home Time, but looks likely to destroy the stability the College has built over the last 4000 years.

Jeapes has managed the impossible here, creating a believable time-travelling society that has plausible reasons for avoiding altering history. He's then used this as the basis for plotting a taut thriller that bounces through the timelines. There's plenty of research here, Jeapes captures the flavour of his historical periods, and introduces the readers to a selection of philosophers that may not always be familiar. As the story builds to its climax you'll find a lot of complexity in here, but Jeapes drives his characters through the twists and turns, guiding them deftly towards an appropriately deus ex machina conclusion (or should that be machina ex deus?).

Wingèd Chariot is Jeapes best novel to date, and should be tracked down wherever possible - but don't be put off by the cover artwork.

(And of course yet another SF novel that takes its title from Andrew Marvell's poem "To His Coy Mistresse".)
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