Paris Adrift is the latest novel from UK author E.J. Swift, and shows us the story of a young student named Hallie as she tries to reinvent herself and distance herself from her past, before finding herself embroiled in a time travel story involving possible manipulation from mysterious forces from the future. A great protagonist in a fascinating plot, with some refreshingly original takes on the mechanics and mechanisms of time travel, this was a very enjoyable read. While I have some mixed feelings about the ending, this was definitely one of the better books I’ve read this year, and I’m absolutely going to go track down the rest of her bibliography and give it a read as well.
Determined to escape her old life, misfit and student geologist Hallie packs up her life in England and heads to Paris. She falls in with the eclectic expat community as a bartender at the notorious Millie’s, located next to the Moulin Rouge.
Here she meets Gabriela, a bartender who guides her through this strange nocturnal world, and begins to find a new family. But Millie’s is not all that it seems: a bird warns Hallie to get her feathers in order, a mysterious woman shows up claiming to be a chronometrist, and Gabriela is inexplicably unable to leave Paris.
Then Hallie discovers a time portal located in the keg room. Over the next nine months, irate customers will be the least of her concerns, as she navigates time-faring through the city’s turbulent past and future, falling in love, and coming to terms with her own precarious sense of self.
So let us start with the time travel. It usually comes in a few distinct flavours, and this one is the ‘yes you can actively change the timeline, you’ll know the difference but nobody else will’ style which is, while definitely more interesting to read, one of the hardest to really keep consistent for the purposes of novel writing. Considering that the whole time travel thing starts by people in a crappy future trying to fix the past, if we think of them as the primary setting of the story, they will know instantaneously if their plan worked because all the changes cascade up and would take effect instantly from their perspective. Thankfully, Swift keeps the focus on Hallie and less on the future, so we don’t necessarily know whether her actions are having the desired effect. Indeed, one of the things that is so great about this novel is that despite the ostensible plot being one thing, it is kept deliberately on the back-burner as secondary to the development and experiences of our protagonist. We start with the future humans, but the story isn’t really about them. It rather put me in mind of the Terminator movies in that sense. We’re aware of the fact that the story is about things we can’t see, but we’re not really asked to care too much about them.
What we are asked to care about, instead, is Hallie and her friends, a fantastic and eclectic bunch of bartenders, servers, and general gadabouts. Their characterizations are interesting, engaging right away, manage to all develop and grow/change as people in only a few hundred pages, and really pop out at the reader. While the reference in the publisher’s blurb above regarding Gabriella’s inability to leave Paris didn’t seem to really be developed as deeply as it could have been, it did lead to some phenomenal moments of emotion and tension for both her and Hallie, and really put a tinge of the sinister on what had been, for Hallie, an otherwise pretty fun and exciting discovery. The reminder for her that bigger things were going on was very well placed and paced and pushed the action right when it needed it.
The general pacing of Paris Adrift was also very well done. I feel like exactly the right amount of time was spent establishing Hallie in her setting, and letting us get to know her well enough to understand her motivations when she suddenly discovered her ability to time travel. At each of the main pivot points of the plot line, I feel like Swift anticipated my desire to say ‘ok we get it, move along to the next bit’ about 10 pages before it came up each and every time. I’m hard pressed to think of any novel I’ve read in the past few years that nailed the pacing for me so perfectly. I never got bored with one stage before we moved onto the next, but it was always just close enough to when I might have, that I also never felt rushed. If you think about how nice it feels when you’re at a restaurant, and the waitstaff bring you a new drink, not when you’ve already run out and need a new one, but when you’re just about done, so you can finish and start into the refill while it’s still cold and fresh? That. But for books.
The more I think about the ending, the more my mixed feelings continue to mix. I’m not in the habit of including spoilers in the reviews of books if I can help it, especially anything like the ending. So all I will say is that the ending of the story subverts the previous plot of the story in a way where I’m still really not sure how I feel about it. Time travel stories are often inherently going to have confusing or open-ended resolutions so it’s not that. It isn’t even that I feel like by subverting the ending the way she did, Swift invalidated any of the previous plot elements. I think I’m just so used to ‘traditional’ SFF always having a very pat ending, that it was just a little jarring to see things left unresolved in this way, but also without any particular indication that a sequel is forthcoming. I’m not sure why it bugs me, everything about how it ends is perfectly in keeping with the characters we’ve come to know. I doubt they could have done anything other than what they did, so it is consistent, and accurate to the people. Maybe I just don’t like not knowing?
In any event, the fact that I’m still thinking about this weeks later should tell you how compelling it is. I am absolutely going to track down the rest of Swift’s work, starting with the Osiris Project trilogy which also looks very interesting. Don’t let my weirdness about the ending put you off. This is a great book. Fantastic characters in an interesting story, excellently paced. Sadly, it doesn’t release until February of next year, so you can’t put it on your Christmas list, but that’s what pre-orders and gift certificates are for. Heck, buying it now will make you feel like a time traveler getting things from the future, which will just help you get in the correct mindset for this book.
Dan received a copy of this book from Solaris via NetGalley
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