Michaels’ fantasy debut imagines an alternate history in which sorcerers battle to shape the world to their liking.
In 1744, after sorcerer Temujin Gur’s black magic foils spellcrafter Zolo Bold’s attempt to overthrow the emperor of China, Zolo seeks out the Prussian princess Freddie von Anhalt, who’s rumored to be a powerful “World Maker” in the making. Gur still manages to assassinate Zolo, but in this novel that leaps through time, Zolo’s death is only the beginning. The princess, known later in life as Czarina Catherine II of Russia, must triumph in a war against the time-traveling 21st-century madman Edison Godfellow, a Nietzsche-influenced immortal who wishes to destroy mankind as we know it and launch a “Grand Evolution” of humanity: “His army of spellcraft captains and Dio Soldati, or God Soldiers, are spread throughout the centuries like a growing pox. We are waging war against them, a war for utopia you might say.” That “we” is Freddie and her allies, including Zolo, the violin teacher and World Maker Niccolo Paganini, and different versions of Freddie herself at other ages. In a centuries-spanning tale of ambition, intrigue, and conflicting political worldviews, beings that exist outside the normal restraints of time fight to realize mankind’s potential. Michaels writes in a dramatic prose style that successfully invigorates the novel’s larger-than-life characters and situations. The diversity of settings (including Central Asian khanates, Enlightenment-era Europe, and a far-future Dubai) makes for fun and evocative reading, as do the winks at real-life history (Edison Godfellow is revealed to have been known by quite a famous name). Unfortunately, the fractured nature of the plot and the complexity of the fictional world force readers to work hard just to know what’s going on. The intricacies of magic, multiple timelines, and political philosophy keep it from being the digestible, escapist fantasy that readers may expect at the outset. Overall, Michaels displays a great deal of conceptual imagination, but more often than not, he lets it get in the way of his storytelling.
An ambitious but overly dense fantasy novel with time-travel elements.