20 June 2016

New Pompeii

Image from titanbooks.com
New Pompeii
Daniel Godfrey
Titan Books, 21 June 2016
PB, 459pp
Source: Advance copy from the publisher (thank you!)

I honestly don't know how to categorise this book. SF? Fantasy? Historical? It's probably all three but above all it's a rollicking good adventure.

Godfrey plays with the ideas of alternate timelines, of changing history. Here, that's done through mysterious technology owned by the sinister firm Novus Particles. NovusPart has found a way to transport matter - including people - from the past. There are limits to this. They can't fetch anything from less than 30 years ago, and they're forbidden from retrieving humans unless they are about to die (to preserve the timeline). But within those boundaries they can do a lot - for example,  saving the population of ancient Pompeii and installing them in a replica city for study (and exploitation).

Nick Houghton is a down-on-his-luck Classical scholar hired to advise on the project. But transported to the fake Pompeii, he finds that all isn't well: you don't try top boss the Romans around without facing consequences...

In parallel with Nick's story, we also follow Kirsten, a young woman who apparently disappeared from a Cambridge college. She sees a different side of NovusPart from Nick. One of things I enjoyed most about the book was the contrast between Kirsten's rather horrible plight in her relatively brief episodes - which give the book some drive, especially at the start before the Pompeii stuff really gets going - and Nick's immersion in the reality of Roman life. The two strands don't seem to be coming together until an event which transforms the way you see the whole story. That left me wanting to read more about both and I do hope that Godfrey follows this book up with a sequel.

The book is also good on devious plotting. It has interlocked machinations by NovusPart and its founding triumvirate, by Roman leader Barbatus, and by a mysterious anti-Novuspart faction, tangled timelines, imposters and missing information which taken together mean there is a surprise on almost every page. While not perfect - there are a few characters Godfrey could have done more with (Felix, for example, and Maggie) - it's a gripping read, laced with genuinely thought provoking ideas and narrative twists. And the encounter between ancient Pompeii and the modern world is well realised, a great "What if..." full of dramatic potential which is fully exploited.

And you'll learn some history too!

Definitely recommended.

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