THE SILVER WIND by Nina Allan
Titan 366 page p/b, £7.99
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan
The fascination with time is understandable. At a minimum, it is recorded by the passing of seasons, and throughout history, there has been an obsession with measuring it more and more accurately. Initial timepieces were clumsy and static – moving them upsets the delicate mechanisms. One of the people to solve the problem was Abraham-Louis Breguet who developed the Tourbillon Cage, a device that allowed a pocket watch to be carried without it losing time as it compensated for changes in gravity. This device is at the heart of the stories in this volume.
Alongside time are the intriguing idea of ‘what if’. Readers and writers alike have a penchant for time-travel stories and, especially in recent years, with branching timelines, and parallel worlds (alternative histories have been around a long time).
Although The Silver Wind appears to be a collection of ten linked stories, it should be regarded more as a symphony, each story being a variation upon a theme. The first movement ‘The Hurricane’ introduces the watchmaker club-footed Owen Andrews. He leaves home to take up an apprenticeship in London soon after the end of the First World War. He is commissioned to make a watch for a Lionel Norman who lives on the Sussex coast with his daughter, Angela. Though controlled by her father, Own and Angela correspond and snatch the odd meeting. The reveals of the photograph of the watch Angela shares with him begin to indicate that this is not the timeline we know. As a counterpoint to the main melody are the characters from Owen’s childhood, Dora and Martin Newland.
In ‘Time’s Chariot’ it is Martin Newland who has a fascination with watches, the first he owns being given to him by his Uncle Henry, but it is his relationship with his sister Dora that dominates. In this, Dora dies as a young woman, but siblings have shared memories of childhood visits to Brighton and the person Dora calls the Circus Man, who appears as a shambling vagrant. ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ also has Uncle Henry giving Martin a watch for his birthday but this time it is Martin’s brother, Stephen who died at birth but is still around. The Circus Man has more than a cameo as he comes to Martin’s aid when he falls and breaks the new watch on Brighton Beach. ‘The Silver Wind’ is the centrepiece. Characters from earlier sections appear with altered names and roles but still part of the melody. Here the setting appears to be a dystopian Britain. Martin Newland seeks out Owen Andrews because he hopes that Andrews can somehow rewind time and bring back Miranda, his dead wife. ‘Rewind’ takes elements from earlier pieces and weaves them onto a new pattern.
To an extent, the book to this point is a very satisfying blend of sf and fantasy. There are bonus tracks. Three more pieces with the same themes of time-bound together with Andrews creations.
On the whole, this is a delightful book, deserving to be read at least twice, to identify the subtlety of the links and variations.