Science Fiction/Fantasy novels are really not a favourite of mine. While I was studying, I dragged my way through Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick and The Time Machine by H.G Wells, both sci-fi classics. However, I didn’t connect with them at all. I need a strong sense of a possible reality in the books that I enjoy, and magic/fantasy directly contradicts this. That being said, I did find myself strangely gripped by Luca Rossi’s The Branches of Time. I’d felt obligated to read it after receiving a lovely email from Mr Rossi and, if I’m honest, I started to read it with a bit of trepidation but I was drawn in very quickly and I actually quite enjoyed it.
The Branches of Time is about a secluded island called Turios which is protected by magical forces whose inhabitants are struck down during the wedding ceremony of Bashinoir and Lil by a shower of stone shards. Only an injured Bashinoir, Lil and the priestess, Miril, survive and the bodies of the slain inexplicably disappear from the island. As Bashinoir recovers from his injuries, Miril asks Lil to forsake her marriage in order to become a priestess to assist her in protecting Turios. Lil reluctantly agrees and as she learns the rituals and magic required for her new role, she grows further and further apart from Bashinoir who, thanks to a mysterious shadow that follows him as he treks round the island’s coast, finds himself grow increasingly more depressed and angry that Miril has taken his wife from him.
Unbeknownst to Bashinoir, the shadow is actually an astral projection of an apprentice wizard from the island of Isk. Bashinoir’s ancestors had fled from Isk to Turios many years earlier. Ilis is working for King Beanor, a revolting masochistic sex maniac who has more wives than he can keep track of. Beanor, like his ancestors before him, has tried to penetrate the force field that protects Turios. Originally Ilis works for the wizard, Aldin, who meets a sticky end after trying to escape to the island he thinks he has defeated with his rock shards but his ship runs into the still-intact island’s defences. Now he works for Obolil, a former wizard for Beanor, who has been tortured for years after he failed to penetrate the island, but who had been reinstated after Beanor’s treacherous advisor, Truil suggests it.
The action is rarely static in this novel with most characters throughout the novel betraying their friends, loved ones and employers. In fact, the only character who remains true throughout is the awful King Beanor! I think I was able to enjoy this book because, while there is undoubtedly a fantasy base to it, the portrayal of relationships and the subsequent betrayals is not unrealistic at all. Neither is the idea of disgruntled inhabitants fleeing their homeland to make a home elsewhere then being attacked repeatedly for doing so. Rossi has captured potential real life scenarios and given them a fantastical touch.
The narrative is a bit confusing at times. There are occasional flashbacks where I felt more baffled than informed. The time travel elements went a bit over my head too but I guess that would be because of my relative inexperience at reading this genre of novel. However, Rossi writes beautifully and I really was taken in by the characters and the relationships. The relationship between Miril, the lonely but powerful priestess, and the naïve, impressionable Lil is exquisitely depicted, as is the sense of ennui that Bashinoir feels when he wanders the island instead of tending to the island’s livestock while Miril trains Lil in her priestess duties.
Sexual activity is a recurring feature in this book and whilst some of the sex scenes gives you an idea of the debauched personality of Beanor, I’m not sure that every sex scene was necessary to move the plot on. I felt that the chapter where Bashinoir was imagining an encounter with Lil would have been more powerful if there was more evidence of Bashinoir’s love for Lil rather than his sexual attraction to her. Up to this point, I had felt some sympathy at what he had been expected to accept as Lil’s duty and a necessity to their survival but this scene changed my mind and I just felt that this episode gave the impression that Bashinoir was not all that different to Beanor in his thirst for sex, and not really concerned about losing Lil as a loving wife.
The action in the final chapters occurs very quickly and I had to read a couple of times to work out exactly what had happened. However, I have to say, I am quite eager to find out what happens in Volume 2 as this novel ends right in the middle of an action scene with lots of loose ends. I have found myself (somewhat surprisingly) invested in this novel and with the characters. I want to know what happens next! I never expected to enjoy this novel as much as I did and while there have been elements of The Branches of Time that I didn’t like, overall it was a really good read. The narrative is cleverly composed and there is a real depth to the characters as the reader is wondering who to trust and who is double-crossing who. For a real sci-fi/fantasy fan, I am sure that this novel would be extremely well received. Luca Rossi has written a great book and I look forward to reading the next installment.