Written by: E.J Swift
Published by: Solaris Books
Synopsis: Paris was supposed to save Hallie. Now…well, let’s just say Paris has other ideas. There’s a strange woman called The Chronometrist who will not leave her alone. Garbled warnings from bizarre creatures keep her up at night. And there’s a time portal in the keg room of the bar where she works. Soon, Hallie is tumbling through the turbulent past and future Paris, making friends, changing the world—and falling in love. But with every trip, Hallie loses a little of herself, and every infinitesimal change she makes ripples through time, until the future she’s trying to save suddenly looks nothing like what she hoped for…
I am a self-confessed time travel geek – it’s easily my favourite aspect of science-fiction, beating down aliens, spacecrafts, post-apocalyptic mutants and even, superheroes! There’s something so appealing about revisiting the past, or future and changing events to create brand new timelines. The Back to the Future trilogy is a perfect example of the depth that can be found in time-travel storytelling – each film is filled with nuances and easter eggs that represent the minor changes that messing with the timestream can have. I also love the circular nature of time-travel stories and how, when done right, audiences can view the same events from totally different perspectives within the same film – the British-Australian horror film, Triangle, does this brilliantly. Time Travel is such a versatile storytelling technique and can be used in all manner of genres – horror, action, comedy, romance. It can be dense sci-fi that requires a flowchart to follow, or simple light-hearted fare that services a larger narrative – either way, time travel just makes everything better!
So with that in mind, it is no surprise that the reference to time travel in the synopsis for Paris Adrift caught my interest as I browsed for new titles to review on NetGalley. Coupled with Joey Hi-Fi’s mysterious and captivating cover, I was almost powerless to resist the siren’s call and I immediately requested a copy. Straight off the bat, Paris Adrift had me hooked, and for the next few weeks I would find myself constantly under its thrall. The novel itself is a somewhat unconventional time travel tale, and if I had to describe it using familiar parlance I would say that it is like The Time Traveler’s Wife mixed with a dash of Twelve Monkeys. As one would suspect from the ethereal style of the cover artwork and its title, this is a more relaxed time travel story than most, and although the stakes become increasingly more important, it is very much focused on character moments to drive the story forward.
E.J Swift takes her time to firmly establish her heroine, Hallie, and the evocative Parisian landscape that surrounds her, making sure the reader cares about her situation and the network of friends she has. Opening up with a disorientating chapter set in a dystopian future, Swift establishes the story’s setting as current day Paris – with plenty of references to the far-right movement and increasing levels of hostility and populism that the world faces today. It becomes a central theme to the plot, and serves as a very timely and relevant warning as to how the rash decisions made by world leaders today could have devastating after-effects for the world tomorrow. For the most part, Swift tells the story from Hallie’s point-of-view, allowing readers to piece together the backstory and motivations of those influencing Hallie and her trips back into time, before revealing the truth in a satisfying concluding third act.
Rather than using a time machine or a pimped-out Delorean to travel through the decades, Hallie adopts a more organic form of time travel as she interacts with anomalies – fixed geographical areas that resonate with chosen individuals (incumbents) and transport them back and forth through the timeline. This process results in a symbiotic relationship between anomaly and incumbent, allowing Swift to make travelling in time into an analogy for drug addiction and obsession. The chronometrist represents the ultimate indulgence in time travel, and as a result, she has lost her corporeal form and her morals – murdering without conscience to achieve her endgame. She was by far the most interesting character in the book, acting as a devil on Hallie’s shoulder throughout the story – it was a shame she didn’t have a more prominent role in the second-half of the book as she added an energetic unpredictability to the storyline that I loved.
Hallie is a wonderfully complex central character, lost in Paris during a gap-year and an attempt to find herself. The bulk of the novel is told from her perspective, creating a solid bond between character and reader – while I may have preferred the manic chronometrist, Hallie was the one who anchored me to the novel and kept me coming back for more. The strongest supporting character in this book wasn’t the love interest, her best friend or even the villains, but the city of Paris itself. I have only visited the city once, and ironically not the parts shown in the book, but E.J Swift manages to evoke that Parisian feel through her words – and it’s not the idealised version of Paris that the brochures wants you to believe in, but a ‘warts and all’ view of the city. It’s particularly raw at times considering the recent terror attacks, which are referenced in the book, and helps position the city as this nexus of potential political disaster which Hallie must prevent from occurring.
E.J Swift’s writing is as intoxicating as the cover art that adorns this beautiful novel. Told at a gentle pace, but with enough excitement and emotion to keep those pages turning, Paris Adrift is a time travel story unlike any I’ve read before. The mechanics of the temporal shifts are wonderfully unique and allows the author to really dig into the emotional ramifications of travelling through multiple centuries. I also learned a significant amount about the Paris Communes and the Royalist Domination – not to mention, the Moulin Rouge and Clichy suburbs. It is a fascinating time period, and it was interesting to see how Swift used it to create parallels with our own times.
Paris Adrift is a rare gem of a novel, and one that deserves to reach a wider audience outside of science-fiction fans. While the time-travel mechanic serves the story well, the book is ultimately a love story to Paris, and will resonate with anyone who has visited the city before. It is refreshing to read a character-driven approach to time travel, and any comparisons to the British Book Award-winning The Time Traveler’s Wife will be very richly deserved. In Hallie, E.J Swift has created a strong, capable and fascinating time-travelling heroine to rival the likes of Marty McFly and Doc Brown.