Denny Younger was born into one of the lowest classes of society of the English Empire. His hopes for job placement following the end of school tests were a short list of very boring, menial jobs. That is, until the mysterious Upjohn Institute takes an interest in him. There, he trains and tests to be a Rewinder, someone who verifies the personal history of patrons to the Institute….in person. He travels through time to verify some aspect about the heritage of the interested party is correct. At first, he is excited about this job – who wouldn’t be? But then small things start to tug at his conscience and lead him to ask questions. These questions make others uncomfortable. Pretty soon, Denny is faced with a terribly hard choice.
I read the description of this book and figured it would be interesting and an OK time travel story. I was wrong.
It was an amazingly fun ride!
Brett Battles created an alternate timeline complete with a history going back over 200 years. The English Empire didn’t cease to grow and expand in the late 1700s, but rather continued on to engulf much of our known world, including North America. The caste system that was in place in early colonial England continued to refine throughout the years. Denny and his family come from Class 8, just barely above the bottom rung. His other Rewinders in training are not pleased to have such a lowly peasant among them.
Denny had studied history for fun in his teens, and possibly as an escape from the drudgery of his life, the death of loved ones over the years, the strained relationship with his father. Therefore, this hopping back in time to physically observe history is a dream job. But things start to unravel as he notices small things that are awry. Pretty soon it becomes apparent that the Institute, or at least certain members of the Institute, are using time travel to benefit themselves and perpetuate the caste system and the British Empire.
And then something happens during one of Denny’s trips that sets history on a different course. In returning to his own time, he finds things very different. Once the panic has receded, he has time to figure out his mistake, and to get to know this new world that he inadvertently brought into being. Will he set things ‘right’? Or will he leave this new time line in place? Such a terribly tough choice!
I loved the way Battles built the tension in this book. You’re right there beside Denny the entire time, seeing his trapped despair at what he believes will be a life of drudgery until the Institute steps in, his elation at traveling through time, his dedication to job and Empire, how his mind doesn’t want to question the good of the Empire but can’t let these little questions go, and his anguish over having created an alternate time line. Being inside Denny’s head is an awesome ride!
The time travel aspect doesn’t get technical. Time travel is a tool, pure and simple, used by the Institute. There are a few discussions about possible paradoxes and other nuances of time travel. Basically, you never get bogged down in the science of time travel, which allows us to simply enjoy the story. I thought it was an interesting point that the travelers often were paired to a Companion who stayed in the home time and suffered the physical discomforts of time travel – head aches, vomiting, etc. This would leave the traveler free of these symptoms upon arrival at their destination so they could quickly get started on their job.
While this is definitely Denny’s story, there are plenty of women who play critical roles in the plot. Denny’s trainer, Marie, definitely gives him a nudge in the right direction. Then there is Lydia, an upper class brat who is assigned to the Institute at the same time as Denny. She is less than pleased to have the same job description as a lowly 8. Finally, there is Iffy, a woman Denny meets in the alternate time line. All these ladies have their own stories and motivations.
This is one of the better time travel stories I have read in recent years. I am thoroughly glad I gave it a chance.
Narration: Vikas Adam was the perfect voice for Denny. He brought the mysriad of emotions Denny experiences in this book. He also had believable and varied voices for all the ladies. I especially liked his upper class, snotty British accent used for some of the minor characters.