This Gulf of Time and Stars was the first Julie E. Czerneda book I ever read. And though it probably wasn't the best jumping point for someone who had yet to read anything by the author, once the story took off it made for a satisfying reading experience. The ending did pack a good punch and I was looking forward to the second volume. Time would tell if the next two installments would live up to the potential generated by the first one, which brings us to this review.
Sadly, The Gate to Futures Past failed to live up to the expectations I had for this novel. Although it got better toward the end, I'm afraid that this one suffers from the same shortcomings as its predecessor. Trouble is, it doesn't benefit from the facets that made This Gulf of Time and Stars a more compelling read.
Here's the blurb:
Second novel in the hard sci-fi Reunification series, The Gate to Futures Past continues the Clan Chronicles, perfect for space opera readers looking for unique aliens and interstellar civilizations. Betrayed and attacked, the Clan fled the Trade Pact for Cersi, believing that world their long-lost home. With them went a lone alien, the Human named Jason Morgan, Chosen of their leader, Sira di Sarc. Tragically, their arrival upset the Balance between Cersi’s three sentient species. And so the Clan, with their newfound kin, must flee again. Their starship, powered by the M’hir, follows a course set long ago, for Clan abilities came from an experiment their ancestors—the Hoveny—conducted on themselves. But it’s a perilous journey. The Clan must endure more than cramped conditions and inner turmoil. Their dead are Calling. Sira must keep her people from answering, for if they do, they die. Morgan searches the ship for answers, afraid the Hoveny’s tech is beyond his grasp. Their only hope? To reach their destination. Little do Sira and Morgan realize their destination holds the gravest threat of all…
Although Julie E. Czerneda is renowned for her complex worldbuilding and for creating original alien species, it wasn't necessarily the case with This Gulf of Time and Stars. The same can be said of this second volume, in which this aspect doesn't play much of a role until the protagonists reach their destination in the last portion of the story. And yet, we have to keep in mind that the author lay the groundwork for this new trilogy in two past series and most of the worldbuilding has already been established. The bulk of the story takes place aboard the sentient ship Sona, on its journey to what could be the birthplace of the Hoveny Concentrix. It's about the drama and the tension engendered by being stuck within the confines of an evasive spaceship on its way to an unknown destination. Czerneda explores the madness and the hopeless desperation associated with refugees forced to live in such miserable conditions. That part of the tale, though slow-moving and at times a bit boring, was particularly well-done.
The references to the mysterious Hoveny Concentrix, the greatest alien civilization the universe has ever known, and how they might be tied to Cersi and its inhabitants were the most fascinating facet of This Gulf of Time and Stars. But I'm afraid that the culmination of this particular plotline, given the important build-up, was a bit lackluster in depth and execution. Which, in the end, was a major disappointment. It felt as though the entire Brightfall/Hoveny Prime storyline was rushed compared to the rest of the novel, which is why the endgame ultimately lacked the punch which allowed the first volume to end on such a high note. The revelation as to why the Hoveny Concentrix disappeared without leaving a trace was enthralling, but the follow-up too rushed to do it justice. The ending itself, however, hits you like a kick in the balls. Shocking and unexpected, it turns the entire Clan Chronicles saga on its head and seemingly brings everything to an abrupt end. It will be interesting to see how Czerneda will bring it back to life in the final installment of the series.
Once again, most of The Gate to Futures Past is told from the perspectives of two main protagonists: Sira di Sarc, former leader of the Clan, and Jason Morgan, her human Chosen. Both are three-dimensional and likeable characters and their different viewpoints make for an interesting narrative. As was the case in the first volume, Czerneda lays it a bit thick when it comes to the romantic side and what they mean to each other, and that can be irritating. The sentient hair has also become an annoying contrivance that is used to often. There are occasional sections offering other points of view, especially once the story shifts to Brightfall and a local frame of reference is required. And even though Sira and Morgan will always take center stage, in This Gulf of Time and Stars I felt that more POVs from the rest of the cast would have added layers to the characterization. Not so in this one. Although additional points of view were necessary to establish the various Brightfall plotlines, those POVs were often confusing and actually bogged down the narrative. Especially at the beginning with all those weird pronouns. Still, what was truly detrimental to the characterization of this novel was that Sira and Morgan are always smarter/stronger/better than everyone else and they're always the ones working out the puzzles and saving everyone from impending doom. I mean, it appears that pretty much all but a few rare souls among the M'hiray and the Om'ray traveling aboard the Sona are fearful and pitiful weaklings in need of constant reassurance from Sira. Talk about a sorry bunch of cowards with which to start a civilization anew. . .
The pace of this book is extremely uneven. Julie E. Czerneda spends nearly half of the novel exploring how the hopelessness and the terror associated with refugees being held captive in a sentient ship flying who knows where affect everyone aboard. Those storylines and that of the dead Calling to the M'hiray and the Om'ray make for an absorbing but slow-moving beginning. I feel that too much focus may have been given to that portion of the tale, which could explain why the endgame felt so rushed afterward. The Brightfall storylines, which were meant to surprise readers and elevate The Gate to Futures Past to another level, would have benefited from more exposure. As things stand, once Sira, Jason, and the refugees meet the local authorities, for some unfathomable reason the author felt the need to hurry through everything that occurs in the wake of that meeting. This robs the endgame of the impact that it should have had and briskly moves the reader toward the ending that suffers from such dashing speed. When it comes, the end is as unexpected as it is startling. All the more so because it appears to bring the entire saga, and not just this second installment, to a sudden ending. Of course, by closing the show in such a dramatic fashion, the author made sure that readers will have no choice but to pick up the final volume. As I mentioned, it will be interesting to see how Czerneda will revive this trilogy in To Guard Against the Dark. We can already surmise that Sira and Jason's undying love will be at the heart of it, but I'm looking forward to discovering what the author has in store for her readers.
Though weaker in basically every aspect than its predecessor, The Gate to Futures Past nevertheless ends in such a way that it will make it impossible for anyone not to pick up the third volume. Still, it is disappointing that subpar execution and characterization ultimately sunk this book and prevented it from being as satisfying as This Gulf of Time and Stars. All the ingredients were there, no doubt about it.
Let us hope that Julie E. Czerneda will raise the bar higher and close the show with style and aplomb in To Guard Against the Dark.