The Timeweaver’s Wager by Axel Blackwell

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I can’t tell you how much I was looking forward to this second novel by Axel Blackwell as his debut novel Sisters of Sorrow blew me away so I was delighted to be sent an advance copy for independent review.

So what’s it all about? Well, as the title suggests there is an element of supernatural but much of the plot is rooted in American small city life.

Glen is a young man wracked with feelings of guilt and failure because he did not intervene to save his girlfriend from being raped and murdered seven years earlier. In his desperate attempts to assuage the guilt and find a way of bringing the perpetrators to justice he started a small project aimed at tackling violence. His endeavours caught the attention of Alan Fontain a wealthy and charismatic entrepreneur who poured money and other resources into it and became mentor, father figure and best friend to Glen. Under their partnership The Constance Salvatore Project grew into a highly successful program for the community with dramatic crime reducing outcomes; but for Glen the success of The Project merely served to emphasis his failings and isolates him from the memory of the Connie he loved.

With much of his life in limbo Glen lives in an apartment above his sister’s garage. Sophia was a registered nurse and partway through her year’s internship in a hospital when, just months after Connie’s death, a terrible car accident left her with a brain injury causing seizures and memory problems. Glen and Sophia find their lives irreparably changed by the events and look out for each other as best they can.

Stifled by the very success of the project Glen has told Alan that he needs to leave and find another way to make amends but Alan is more than reluctant to let him go. Finally Glen realises that he must take control of his future and he makes a public resignation at gala dinner thus forcing Alan’s hand.

The first third of the tale is basically the introduction to, and history of the characters that brings us to the point of Glen’s resignation. From here it takes on a very different atmosphere for this is where the Timeweaver and the wager come into it. Alan insists that before Glen leaves he listens to the truth about Alan’s own past and then he will be free to go. What Alan reveals has the power to change Glen’s life if he really wants it.

Who doesn’t have a conscience that pricks. How many of us have claimed that given a chance we would go back if we could and do something differently, display moral fibre, prevent something we knew to be wrong? So why didn’t we do it at the time? Perhaps we were really frightened, or selfish or maybe just embarrassed. How many of us would truly be prepared to lose everything we have, to go back and undo a wrong that we had allowed to happen. This is the extraordinary choice that is suddenly offered to Glen – go back, be fifteen again and die failing to protect Connie, or continue with the empty charade of his current life. I won’t spoil the plot, if you want to know the outcome you must read it for yourself.

So what did I think of it? I enjoyed the premise of the story and felt real warmth in the relationship between Glen and Sophia. I loved the idea of Samir’s wager with God and thought that the strands of the plot were brought together extremely well in the final third of the tale. But it felt very much like a three chapter book comprising the introduction, Alan’s story, Glen’s story. The novel is very short and I feel that too much of the story was told rather than experienced with the result that the first two thirds read more like extended notes or potted histories. In contrast the final third was excellent, I experienced the drama, the fear and the action and it really flowed. Overall my view is that The Timeweaver’s Wager had all the promise of Sisters of Sorrow but felt rushed and lacked the nurturing that it deserved.

3 Bites

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

Sisters of Sorrow by Axel Blackwell

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I must admit that I was initially put off by the synopsis for this debut book, it seemed to have elements of several genres and I felt that it wasn’t for me, but having picked it at random I had to give it a go. I’m soooo glad I did! It is well written, descriptive, imaginative and very exciting. The lead characters of Anna and Donny are beautifully developed and the supporting cast is rich and varied.

The tale is set in the early 1900s in the Saint Frances du Chantal’s Orphan Asylum, a dumping ground for socially unacceptable orphans. Anna Dufresne has been sent there because she committed a heinous crime, and where better to send such a child than to an island fortress and into the care of an institution run by disgraced nuns? The orphans have to earn their keep in the huge and dangerous shoe factory in one wing of the fortress. The machines are vast and brutal and many of the children are crushed, or chopped, or stitched. But worse than any machine are the nuns, sadistic and mad, that the Church chooses to exile to the island.

One day Anna is sent to the basement to clear the seaweed that blocks the grating on the water drainage tunnel and in the dark confines of the pipe she hears a voice that offers her a route to freedom. Anna knows that if the plan fails the nuns will probably kill her, and that if the plan succeeds the children in her care that she leaves behind will be in danger from the nuns’ wrath. Accepting the risks she reaches out for freedom leaving her team of young girls in the care of the recently arrived and rather mysterious Sister Dolores.

Anna’s actions destroy the shoe factory and the escape plan works perfectly – until she finds herself trapped in an underground cistern with the sudden realisation that although above ground she is hunted by the nuns, below ground, a truly monstrous creature is on her trail. However all is not lost for trapped with her is Donny, another young orphan, and drawing strength and courage from each other they escape the cistern and set out to rescue his sister from the nuns. Armed only with determination and ingenuity, and with nothing to eat but a raw potato, the children have to battle wolves and monsters as well as the crazed witch-hunting nuns.

I loved the details that the author added such as the raw potato and Donny’s version of Molotov cocktails. The range of sensory information in the descriptions conjured images both vivid and foreboding, but what delighted me was the developing relationship between Donny and Anna and how love and loyalty brought out strengths and weaknesses in both of them. Each character had a very different personality which allowed for moments of humour to soften the really scary bits and it was refreshing to read an adventure book with such well-developed protagonists.  I think that the author has identified his audience extremely well and given them a thrilling tale for our modern zombie loving youth. Think of it as an upgraded ‘Wolves of Willoughby Chase’ (Joan Aiken).

This scores a big fat 5 bites for me and I look forward to reading more by this author.

 

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.