Review of NOVELLA NETGALLEY arc Time Was by Ian McDonald #Brainfluffbookreview #TimeWasbookreview


I was delighted when I saw this offering on NetGalley – and even more delighted when I was approved to read it. I enjoy McDonald’s writing and was particularly impressed with his lunar duology – read my review of Luna: New Moon here.

Struggling second-hand book dealer, Emmet, is trying to survive in the increasingly difficult financial climate – and then comes across a small poetry collection called Time Was which includes a love letter from Tom to Ben, set in WWII. It sets him out on an astonishing search to discover who Tom and Ben are – a search that takes him to a tucked-away corner of England where odd stories abound about the seas catching fire…

And no… You won’t find that blurb anywhere else, as I wrote it myself. I feel the official version is highly misleading and yet somehow also manages to reveal some of the major plot points. I’m very glad I didn’t read it before I picked up the book, because I would have approached it expecting something completely different.

The main protagonist is gripped by the need to track down the fate of the two young men caught up in WWII and more or less abandons his everyday life to do it. In contrast to the lyrical, slightly highflown prose produced by Tom when in his viewpoint, Emmet is far more down-to-earth with a dry, sarky humour that I thoroughly enjoyed and stopped this turning into a treacly read. In fact, Emmett isn’t a particularly likeable character – and that was okay, too.

Tom and Ben were the people in the story that snagged my sympathy and attention – and I think that is exactly how I was meant to feel, in effect, shadowing the main protagonist in his attempts to find out more about these two people. But history and historical research is inherently messy – it never delivers exactly what you want, in the way that you want it. And there are two major surprises at the end of this bittersweet story that summed up that premise.

Overall, I think this is a haunting, really well written novella with a misleading blurb that isn’t doing it any favours whatsoever. Take my advice – skip the blurb and instead pick up this short story without any prior expectation and let the plot unfold around you.

24 responses »

  1. I find many blurbs to be misleading, so glad you skipped it and wrote your own. I adore Ian McDonald but I’ve only read his older books. It’s been years, maybe I should try a newer release!

    • Yes… there are a number of very angry reviews on Goodreads, complaining that they picked up the book expecting something quite different after reading the blurb. Poor Ian McDonald! I’d be tearing my hair out if that was happening to my book… And yes, I recommend this – though if you are in the mood for space adventure instead, the Luna duology is a very memorable read. McDonald dubs it the Game of Domes…

  2. I’ve not heard of this novella but your review has me interested in reading it. I really appreciate that you wrote out the blurb yourself to avoid the spoilers you got from the original blurb. I’m definitely going to be looking out for a copy of this book.

    • Thank you Hayley. I am slightly obsessed about spoilery blurbs *twitches disturbingly at the very thought* but I get so FED UP with having my reader experience ruined by the back matter chattering away about a plotpoint I’m not supposed to know about until I’m a quarter of the way into the story! I hope you track this one down and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on it.

  3. Misleading blurb or not, this sounds like a wonderful story – and that’s what’s most important in the end. I wonder if this is available in print, though, since many novellas seem to go digital first…

    • It is a wonderful story – and I’ve checked… it is available in print, though not particuarly cheap, given that it is a novella. I hope you manage to get hold of it, whatever the format – I’d love to know what you make of it, Sara:)

  4. As a fan of McDonald’s Luna series, I’ve been thinking often about reading his other works, and since this sounds quite different in mood from what I’ve read until now, I think I will enjoy the change of pace and story. Thank you so much for sharing this! 🙂

  5. Ooooh! That book sounds so delightful! At some point, I started his River of Gods and it was fascinating, but something (I think it was the Great Move Across the Water 😉 ) pulled me away from it, and I never finished it. I guess I should get back to it, and then try this one as well. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.