Review by C.J. Bunce
Betrayal. Duplicity. Deception. Intrigue.
Godfrey’s debut novel, New Pompeii, was one of last year’s most entertaining reads (reviewed here at borg.com). Empire of Time, Godfrey’s sequel, is equal to the first, and brilliantly enough it’s completely readable as a standalone work not requiring the reader to have read his New Pompeii. Godfrey, who is not a professor of ancient history, has written a narrative about life in Pompeii at the time Vesuvius erupted in AD 79 that would swiftly pass muster with historians. And his knowledge of history is matched by his science fiction storytelling skill to provide a rousing next chapter for one of the decade’s most nuanced time travel stories.
Suetonius’s Twelve Caesars is one of the more exciting of the primary history texts of the ancient world. In New Pompeii, Godfrey transported most of the population of Pompeii in AD 79 to a rebuilt facsimile in the present day world, saving their lives from Vesuvius’s lava, fire, and heat. More fleshed out this time around, the characters who live in the world of New Pompeii in Empire of Time all live, fight, and die in accordance with the politics, literature, art, social, and scientific elements of Suetonius’s world. Godfrey even hands the classic book to a character for that character’s own twisted inspiration. Godfrey crisscrosses time with his lead character, former research assistant Nick Houghton as he traverses modern Italy, and follows Houghton in the city of New Pompeii in his Roman persona, Decimus Horatius Pullus–the legendary “man who cannot be killed.” In a third and parallel story Godfrey presents the exploits of a slave turned gladiator named Achillia, a ruthless, bloodthirsty survivor who establishes even more of the detailed feel for the mindset of people in the real Roman Empire. A hardened warrior, Achillia will appeal to fans of Robin Wright’s General Antiope from the opening scenes of Wonder Woman.
The same political intrigue that seeped into stories of Italy’s modern-day Cosa Nostra is present among the manipulators, magistrates, and political machinations of New Pompeii. Readers will travel through most of the novel with Houghton as he sleuths out lost technical data in the normal world that may allow the “Novus Particles” device to repeat the time travel used to transport the ancients to the present day. He is also charged–in his Pullus persona–with the same mission only under the control of Calpurnia, the “Empress of Time” of New Pompeii. But is there truly a device to reactivate time travel? When archaeologists suddenly begin to encounter messages in English in ancient ruins, does that provide evidence that someone in the future can not only pull matter forward in time, but also transport messages backward in a parallel timeline? And who is sending the messages?
Godfrey’s subordinate characters are as intriguing as the main cast. Calpurnia assigns an assistant to Pullus in his detective work in New Pompeii, and as Houghton he works in Italy with two women to find the missing pieces that can help him try to maintain the balance and keep peace between the modern and the ancient cities. But are all three helpers as they seem? Who will be loyal to him and who can’t he trust? And where do Achillia and Calpurnia’s bastard son fit in?
Science fiction readers will find Godfrey’s worldbuilding and time travel rules consistent with the best time travel stories. Both his time travel and communication across time will appeal to fans of Phillip K. Dick’s Time Out of Joint, John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness, Michael Crichton’s Timeline and Westworld, a host of novels by Connie Willis, including To Say Nothing of the Dog and Blackout, and the better Matt Smith and David Tennant episodes of Doctor Who. Fans of Suetonius and Plutarch will feel at home here, too.
Like New Pompeii, Empire of Time clocks in at a whopping 460 pages and 76 chapters. Also, like New Pompeii, Empire of Time is an exciting and quick read. If you’re like this reader, you’ll soak up this novel in a single day. Empire of Time is available now from Titan Books here at Amazon. New Pompeii is available here.