What would you do if the people you knew never existed in the first place? That is the question The Branches of Time by Luca Rossi poses you. After reading this novel, my question would be another instead.
Author: Luca Rossi
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Release Date: June 2014
Purchase At: Amazon
Branches of Time opens with a wedding on the island of Turios interrupted by a rain of black arrows. Bashinoir and his wife Lil survive and head to the Temple. There they find the last survivor, the Priestess, Miril. After tending to Bashinoir’s wound, they go out to find that all the corpses vanished, as if they’d never been there.
In another land, King Beanor butchers assistants and concubines on a daily basis, to vent his frustration at his mages, who seem to constantly fail at finding a solution to the magical barrier that keeps them trapped—as it destroys every ship that reaches it. The Temple on Turios and its people power the barrier, so the black arrow shower was the latest attempt at breaking through it.
But it’s not as straightforward as it seems and only when Lil momentarily blinks out of existence does the priestess put it together: someone changed the past past and their branch of the time stream is decaying.
First of all, that’s not how time works. If someone never existed you don’t have memories of them, period. Unless you give your readers a sufficiently convincing argument on how they can resist changes in the time-stream, it’s nonsense. The bodies disappear because they never existed, but if they never existed then what are you sad about? And why are there so many houses and villages? Doesn’t make a lick of sense.
Everyone has different levels of suspension of disbelief and I think mine is fairly high, but this one went way past it, it broke through. Even fantasy needs some form of logic, and the explanation behind the Branches of Time that Miril poses doesn’t explain how they can still remember those that have ceased to exist. If it had been only Bashinoir remembering because he was injured by the arrows, the attack somehow marking him, then it would’ve worked better.
Characterisation is bland and characters never have any depth, beyond the sudden and unexplained moments of attraction between Lil and Miril. Their budding relationship feels forced when it doesn’t feel slightly creepy, since the Priestess does her best to sleep with the girl from the moment they meet. Her husband, Bashinoir, spends about half of the novel bedridden from an injury and the next half moping around, as Rossi constantly tries to hammer in the point that they’ve lost everything and he’s depressed, making him an easy prey to the manipulation of the remaining mages in Beanor’s service. The King and his court are predictably and uninterestingly vile and base, with no nuance and no redeeming features.
In fact, the greatest of all crimes Branches of Time commits is that you never care about the characters. There is nothing worth investing in them, they’re not admirable, relatable or even likeable.
One of the early lessons you learn about prose is to keep the passive voice to a minimum if not avoid it altogether. The reason is that passive voice makes sentences more complicated than they should and bring the sentence flow slow down to a crawl. “The ball was kicked by the soldier,” doesn’t read as well as “The soldier kicked the ball.” The latter is direct and you understand the subject immediately.
No one bothered to explain this to Rossi, so passive is the only voice he has. Descriptions are overly long and complicated because of it and characters speak in the same voice, so even conversations take ages to read through and are so convoluted in their expression that the meaning is lost.
Rossi spends so much time trying to get you to understand where his characters are going despite the lack of proper characterisation that he never bothers to build his world. He even goes back into the past, but it doesn’t do anything to help you understand what the world is like. In consequence, King Beanor’s kingdom is a predictable and tired trope of the barbarian kingdom, with a cruel, unjust and unstoppable ruler.
He does put some effort into the palace’s politics, all revolving around sex and the king’s abuse, with his first wife ruling over everyone, making them her slaves first and the king’s sex toys later. There is a subplot involving the latest wife and it doesn’t end well for the king, and this one in particular exposes just how bad the characterisation is, with this secondary character appearing three times in the story, with no character development and quickly discarded in the end after manipulating and seducing a character that gets even less development.
But my greatest in a long list of gripes with The Branches of Time is that nothing happens. Chapters go on and on with nothing actually happening, with no story development. By the time the nonsensical element of the eponymous branches of time and how the people don’t exist anymore comes in, it’s already three-quarters of the way there. And the novel ends with nothing resolved and nothing even advanced. It’s clearly (in the title by the way) that this is Volume One in a story, but it doesn’t do anything to be a worthwhile read on its own, and I can’t think of any reason why I would go on to the second volume.
There are chapters wasted on random acts of sex and violence by King Beanor, with no other purpose than to show how bad he is. The worst of these needless chapters is Bashinoir’s near the end, when he masturbates to the image of raping his wife. That’s the whole chapter. It doesn’t do anything for the character, other than tiredly hammer down once more that he’s disturbed. I knew that from the first chapter, I didn’t need thirty more just about that!
At the start, I said there was another question I would ask and it’s, “what if I had never read The Branches of Time?” There is nothing good I can say about it. It has a terrible plot, badly told and with badly developed characters. It wastes time doing nothing and hurries to shove what plot it has near the end. I will not pick up the second volume.
1/5 – OH HELL NO!