Monday, August 13, 2007

Conqueror - Stephen Baxter

Time’s Tapestry, Book Two
Stephen Baxter

Alternate History

In 607 AD, the Romans have all but abandoned Britain. Even so, their presence is still keenly felt. The Roman Church, attempting to consolidate power by gathering the various pagan tribes into its fold, has begun to appropriate all major regional religious stories and relics. To that end, a bishop is leading a group of pilgrims into the north in search of a prophecy. Needing protection, he hires an unlikely duo; one, a Saxon who is bored working for his father’s trading business, the other, a Norse warrior. The two men agree to go, having heard tales of riches in the north.

In 743 AD, the last extant copy of the prophecy, said to have been made by Isolde, rests with a young girl, Aelffaed. She goes by the name of Aelfric now, having disguised herself as a boy in order to join a monastery on the tiny island of Lindisfarne in order to gain access to books. When Vikings, hearing of the monastery’s wealth, raid the place, they destroy the parchment containing the prophecy. But Aelffaed has it memorized. She’s joined by a disparate group of people, brought together in the same time, at the same place. Many believe that only the Weavers of time’s tapestry could have made that happen; and there must be a reason.

This second installment, following EMPEROR, begins in 607 AD and continues through the battle of Hastings in 1066 AD. My one complaint about the first book was that, covering so much time, each group of characters were given relatively little space in the story. That’s been remedied a bit here, as the book is broken up into four major eras. It’s a testament to the author’s talent that, while he fully develops each group, I still would have liked to see more. As before, each group interprets and values the prophecy just a bit differently, depending on their ultimate goals and frame of reference.

No previous knowledge of history is necessary, as the author provides plenty of information in the narrative. There’s also a map, timeline, and list of people and place names at the beginning; all inclusions that warm my history-geek heart. And, if you’re looking for factual accounts of the events described here, the author provides a concise list in his Afterword. This series is sure to please fans of alternate history and historical fiction alike. I’m already hoping for more.

Rating: 8 ½
August 2007
ISBN# 978-0-441-01496-5 (hardcover)


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