Tyson hails from the year 2304, where he has been raised from birth (and shaped even before that) to be a time-traveling historian. Madi lives in the year 2136 and has accidentally managed to stumble into time travel before it’s been invented. Their stories become intertwined when something happens to break history as they know it—something that may fall at their time-traveling feet.
Rysa Walker’s Now, Then, and Everywhen is a big, sprawling time travel adventure that hints at more questions than it answers. The bulk of the story jumps between Tyson and Madi, each surrounded by their own cast of supporting characters and influences, and each traveling in time independently of one another. For Tyson, time travel is his everyday reality; he and his co-historians at CHRONOS explore history in the flesh, trying to capture those nuances that don’t generally survive the telling. For Madi, it’s a dangerous game; she’s literally fallen into time travel and is exploring it without a safety net of any sort (either for herself or for the course of history).
The book is a prequel to Walker’s CHRONOS series, and while it certainly isn’t necessary to have read her previous books, I’m sure one would benefit from being familiar with the world she has created. The book is peppered with references and moments that feel like they carry unseen weight, and this can leave the new reader feeling like they’re not getting the whole story. Now, Then, and Everywhen stands on its own, but the most intriguing of these references generate interest and questions that the book itself never answers. Whether this is because they’ve been addressed in previous books or because they may someday be addressed in future novels is unclear. Time travel makes for a tricky focal point and there’s certainly some risk inherent in putting it under a literary microscope—risk that Walker has embraced, more to her audience’s benefit than not.
Now, Then, and Everywhen is an often entertaining and occasionally compelling read, but it suffers a little from its size and scope. There is a tremendous amount of set-up involving a daunting number of characters, and many of the most intriguing questions aren’t effectively answered by the book’s conclusion. The result is a novel that feels like a paradox of its own; it runs a little long and yet ends too soon.
Walker’s new book won’t be for everybody, but it has lots to offer to the right sort of reader.
This review was originally published by Cloud Lake Literary in December of 2020.
“If you had more friends, maybe you wouldn’t spend so much time with your demons.”
Thomas Blackbird Mavrias is a Greek-Cherokee former writer that feels long past making a difference with his words. Finding himself retired and in middling health, the one-time activist is vacationing with his long-time partner Mimi Bull Shield, with the shared goal of tracking down a long-lost Crow bundle. The bundle – taken to Europe by Mimi’s Uncle Leroy when he fled to Europe a century earlier – provides the impetus behind their regular international travels while a collection of Uncle Leroy’s postcards provides direction.
Thomas King’s latest novel, Indians on Vacation, follows Bird and Mimi to Prague. Bird, in turn, is followed by his various demons: Eugene (self-loathing), Cat/Kitty (pessimism), Didi (depression), Desi (despair), and Chip (of the ‘on the shoulder’ variety). Bird’s personal demons are fully fleshed out characters with thoughts and opinions that they aren’t afraid to share, and their dialogue provides a peek into those aspects of his personality that he tries to keep tucked away and out of sight. It’s Mimi that named them, that brought them out in to the open, just as she tries to bring Bird out of his shell. The two are very different people, and their differences provide no shortage of gentle conflict in the close proximity that travel forces upon them.
King’s characters are complicated individuals and the relationship they share is not always simple or smooth. The primary framework of the story takes place in Prague, but there are many digressions and remembrances scattered throughout, where the reader is provided the opportunity to see the man Bird has been, both at other stages in his life and in other stages of his relationship with (and without) Mimi. There is a lot of love between Bird and Mimi, but there are also silences and frustrations and pain, all of which come alive in clever heartfelt dialogue and illuminating prose.
Indians on Vacation is a novel woven from many stories, and those stories are full of the nudges and winks that Thomas King excels at. It’s filled with love and humour, but is also steeped in hard realities and sad truths that, along with Bird’s demons, shape a narrative that’s both a pleasure to read and a rough reminder that the world could use a lot of work.
This review was originally published by Cloud Lake Literary in September of 2020.