Chris Roberson wisely dedicated his 14th novel to Michael Moorcock, Alan Moore, and Kim Newman, three authors who pioneered the difficult to execute non-linear, historical, time-travel adventure. Following in their perennially successful footsteps, Roberson’s End of the Century recounts three unique interrelated tales from three distinct time periods.
In 498 Anno Domini, the timid Galaad journeys to Caer Llundain — later known as London — for an audience with High King Artor, Count of Britannia. Visions trouble the traveler; dreams of a White Lady that he is compelled to share with the ruler.
“At least that’s what I call her. At first I thought she was instead one of the goddesses of our grandfathers. Perhaps she was Ceridwen, who made the potion greal in her magic cauldron, on her island in the middle of a lake.” He shook his head, lips pursed as though he’d just eaten something distasteful. As a follower of the precepts of Pelagianism, he knew there were many paths to the divine, but still the thought of pagan goddesses contacting him made Galaad uneasy. “But perhaps it doesn’t matter who she is, only what she is showing me.”
Summoned by Scotland Yard to investigate a particularly gruesome murder on the eve of Queen Victoria’s 1897 Diamond Jubilee, legendary detective Sanford Blank, who solved the Whitechapel Ripper case many years before, and his lovely companion, Roxanne Bonaventure, fear the carnage marks the return of the Torso Killer — a murderer who was never caught.
“I’ve never seen cuts like these,” Blank said.
“And here I thought you had seen everything, Blank,” Miss Bonaventure said in a ill-advised attempt to mask her own squeamishness with levity. Blank shot her a hard look, and her weak smile grew even weaker. Subdued, and looking away from the bloody remains, she went on. “But no, I’ve never seen the like, either.”
“I take it the head and hands have not been retrieved?”
“No.” Melville shook his head. “No sign of them, same as ... ” He bit the words off, but Blank knew what he’d been about to say.
Same as last time.
Blank and Bonaventure quickly uncover at least two more recent victims whose deaths previously seemed unrelated.
With medication, the epileptic Alice Fell repressed the visions that first plagued her as a child. Now in London, 2000 CE, the 18-year-old Alice stands before the London Eye, a 400-foot ferris wheel that looms over the city, and confronts her seizure dreams:
An eye over a city. (What city, she didn’t know.)
A jewel or diamond or crystal that seemed to shine with an inner light.
Large black birds. Lots of them. (Origin-ally Alice thought they were crows, or maybe even oversized grackles, but when she saw a nature documentary a while later, she knew she’d been wrong. They were ravens.)
A small body of water, a pond or lake, the surface motionless as glass, smooth and featureless as a mirror’s face.
A man she didn’t know whose eyes were ice-chip blue.
At first clearly delineated, the three narratives of Roberson’s tale slowly coalesce into a cohesive plot about the Holy Grail and a mysterious entity known as Omega.
Roberson successfully repurposes the techniques of A. Conan Doyle and other 19th-century wordsmiths to accurately portray the world of the Bland-Bonaventure narrative. His three stated literary antecedents relied on similar tropes to great effect in their own works, most effectively in Moorcock’s Metatemporal Detective stories, Newman’s novel Anno Dracula, and Moore’s graphic novel series League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
The author stumbles a bit in the third, near-contemporary, tale — Fell, a petulant adult, earns little sympathy in this least interesting story — but he captures the essence of each era, wielding his extensive knowledge of historical minutiae to set the scenes and mimic the proper literary stylings through the machinations of dialogue and even sentence structure. The use of archaic words make the Galaad selections slightly more difficult to read, but they thrust the reader into an unfamiliar world along with the young, naive protagonist, thus creating the most intriguing adventure of the three.
The latest novel in the author’s Bonaventure-Carmody Sequence, End of the Century requires no previous experience with any of his other books, though as events unfold, prior knowledge of Roxanne Bonaventure and her extended family grant the experienced reader additional insights. A World Fantasy Award finalist and winner of the Sidewise Award for Best Alternate History Short Form, Roberson ultimately delivers a superior multi-linear novel worthy of the authors to whom he dedicated End of the Century. •