Fans of Christopher Priest will be happy that in his latest work, ‘The Gradual’, that we once again return to the islands which make up The Dream Archipelago which we last saw in ‘The Adjacent‘. For those unfamiliar with The Dream Archipelago, they are either a set of countless islands in an alternate world or the delusions of a traumatized man from ‘The Affirmation’. Either way, it is a rich setting for some very unique storytelling which often reflects on an interesting take on alternate history, time, and so much more. Honestly, ‘The Gradual’ has a very different vibe from much of his recent work as the timeline is much more linear than one would be used to though time travel is also more prominent here in quite a surprising and fun way.
In ‘The Gradual’ we follow a composer named Alesandro Sussken who lives in the Republic of Glaund which is an oppressed world on an orchestral cultural tour that allows him to travel to other islands nearby in the Archipelago. His island has constantly been at war with Faiandland for as long as he can remember. While Orwellian in nature, it is not the focus of the novel and not the inspiration for the story. This war being constant though means that the tour that Alesandro is going to embark on is not only surprising but provides an opportunity that he never felt would occur. Alesandro has a chance to search for his lost brother who went off to war years ago and never returned. During his journey, time travel occurs in quite an interesting way and has huge consequences to his life. What has been months for him has been years in the Republic which leaves him returning home to parents having passed away from old age and a wife who has left him having thought he would never return.
One has to pause here to consider that Sussken’s brother may not have been lost at war but has only been gone for a few months in his own state of time and is not actually dead or missing. He could, in fact, be part of a war which has long ago ended though the news has not reached their shore and the survivors are adrift in time.
So with his life in flux and a second tour is offered he takes it for an even more vastly different voyage where he meets the “adepts”. They explain to him that these time slips can be eliminated and they have the ability to do so. However, are these people who can save travelers between the islands or just scammers who are fleecing victims that would not be able to return in time to attempt and regain their losses. The book is more than time travel, more than a world based on ‘1984’, more than a book showing us the pains of travel raised to a new level of pain, it is an original thought that Priest has once again gifted to the world.
It is hard to fully tell you about the story without giving away some of the key moments but Priest has once again shown us that he is a truly amazing author who can give us twists and turns and a creative tale to lose ourselves in. If you’ve enjoyed his previous work, you’ll want to snatch this one up. If you haven’t had a chance to read any of Priests prior novels you won’t have to have cracked one open to enjoy this world as while it does take place in The Dream Archipelago, there are no ties that will enhance the telling to a point where you would have had to read them to appreciate it.
A great stand alone read taking place in the world which Priest has lovingly created over the years.
Stuart Conover is an author, blogger, and all around geek. When not busy being a father and husband he tries to spend as much time as possible immersed in comic books, science fiction, and horror! Would you like to know more? Follow him on Twitter!