Alice Payne Series
by Kate Heartfield
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
1. Alice Payne Arrives / 2. Alice Payne Rides
A new series from the tor.com novella program, the first title of which is Alice Payne Arrives. It came out just a couple of weeks ago, with the second due next March. It's a combination of steampunk and time travel. Many time periods and locations are visited, but the two major ones are England in 1788, and Toronto in 2070. Alice Payne is a thirty-two year old bi-racial woman, born in Jamaica in 1756, brought to England by her father when she was three. She never knew her mother. Her father later fought against the American rebels, returning to England with wounds in body and spirit. While he was away, Alice was cared for by servants and a paid companion, Jane Hodgson, now her lover. Her father is deep in debt, and Alice secretly pays off creditors from funds she gains as a nortorious highwayman, known as the Holy Ghost. Her targets are powerful men whom she also knows to be rapists and abusers of women. Jane is scientifically minded, conducting experiments and inventing mechanical devices, one of which Alice uses to aid in her thievery.
After her latest heist, a mystery arises. The carriage and horses carrying the nobleman she had robbed disappears. She later finds a mechanical device in the bushes on the side of the road. Thinking it must be one of Jane's inventions, she returns to her home and shows it to her companion. Jane has no idea what it is either, but upon examination is able to activate a shimmering portal, into which she throws objects, even lets one of her captured mice enter it. The objects and the mouse disappear. Alice goes through the portal herself, over Jane's frantic objections. By doing so, Alice embarks on a fantastic journey, the ultimate destination of which we won't know for several more stories at least. She meets another black woman, Prudence Zuniga, who claims to be an agent of a military project known as the Teleosophic Core Command. At least two different factions of future agents are intent on changing the past, or not change the past, or correct the other faction's changes, in order to ensure a more harmonious future (and past). Prudence's group calls themselves Farmers, their foes are the Guides, although the Farmers refer to them as the Misguided.
Fascinating characters and an intriguing premise. One notion I hope is explored in more detail is Prudence's claim that all the wars Alice knows from history, all wars we know that came after her time, were actually caused by the infiltration of the past by either the Farmers or Guides. Nearly every time they would change something, or reverse another change, things actually got worse. There was only one thing that got a "wait a minute" reaction. The second time Alice uses the portal device, without Jane's knowledge, how did she know how to change the dial settings to get to the exact time and location to meet up with Prudence in her private office in the future? It's a different location than where she had encountered her the first time. Alice is obviously very intelligent, but Jane is the scientist, the tinkerer. It would have made more sense for Jane to be the one to figure out the particulars of the device. That feeling was reinforced later when the prospect of Jane being a future time traveler was raised. Other than that minor quibble, I enjoyed this very much, and look forward to more adventures. We only have Prudence's word that she is on the right side of the future battle. Only her word that her ultimate agenda is to stop the madness and eliminate the possibility of time travel altogether. Will Alice and Jane work alongside her later, or against her by aiding the Guides? Will they form a new faction with their own agenda? We've seen the possibility of changes to events already depicted, and that is sure to continue. One thing I hope doesn't happen is for Alice and Jane to be on opposite sides, but who knows what can occur when people's destinies are continually altered?
Alice Payne Rides comes out March 5, 2019. I'll return to this page then, or maybe earlier if I'm lucky, if Net Galley or Edelweiss cooperate.
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