Emperor: Time's Tapestry #1
by Stephen Baxter
Cover Artist: Chris Shamwana
Review by Paul Haggerty
Ace Hardcover Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 0441014666
Date: 02 January, 2007 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
A father-to-be paces helplessly while his wife struggles to give birth to their first born. His father and brother stand nearby, offering what support they can (while bickering amongst themselves, as families do). The year is 4 B.C. and what seems to be an event that has happened billions of times is about to take on a world altering twist. Struggling with the difficult birth, Brica begins stammering in a strange tongue, Latin, official language of the far off Roman Empire. Only one person understands it and, with a sense of unreality, begins to copy down a prophecy that will rule the family for the next four hundred years.
Emperor The first book in the new Time's Tapestry series by Stephen Baxter doesn't seem to have much of the standard science fiction or fantasy tropes. It's an alternative history without a lot of alternatives in the history. What marks it firmly in the genre is the prophecy, a series of cryptic phrases pointing to three Roman emperors whose campaigns will forever change the face of what will be come the British Isles. Of course at this point in time, there is no British identity, the islands are covered with a wide variety of cultures, some trading peacefully, and other bent on domination of their neighbors. What they all share in common is a belief that the Romans, last seen when Julius Caesar invaded, have been driven off for good. But good things don't seem to last. And the dominator today will become the conquered tomorrow.
The first generation of the prophecy is followed in the form of Nectovelin, the child born while his mother died giving forth the prophecy. He's convinced that he holds the power to change the world and solidify his people's place in history. The Roman Empire, the form of General Vespasian, Emperor Claudius, and the sweeping tide of Roman legions have other views on the matter.
Later generations have to deal with the effects Roman subjugation bring, some good, some bad. And each has to deal with the prophecy. What does it mean? Where did it come from? The first question is answered in part as the years roll on, each emperor arriving as predicted and changing the course of history. At each point the family has the ability to act, but what action should they take? And why should they act? Who sent the prophecy? Is it the hand of the Christian God? Is it some sorcerer from the future? If the future does change, will it be for good or ill? These are the problems when dealing with prophecies (which nobody can ever seem to give in clear comprehensible language), and the pawns will never come out on top. After all, they're living during the nodal points. If they do change history, how would they know?
Emperor is a sweeping novel, covering hundreds of years and several generations. Fortunes rise and fall, empires rise and fall. The hand of some greater power hovers in the background, but is it a power for good or for ill. I guess we'll need to wait for the next installment and the next prophecy.