Time Portals of Norwich by David Viner
(Viva Djinn Publishing, 2023)
Reviewed by Gene Rowe
We first meet Cassie—a young girl from Norwich—at her mother’s funeral. Well, not just one Cassie but, as it turns out, three…although ‘our’ Cassie doesn’t realise who these other two are until she becomes one of them years later. Uh-huh, it’s that sort of story.
What follows is an adventure in which multiple Cassies flit backwards and forwards through time as our heroine (in all her manifestations) attempts to unravel the supernatural mystery of her family and escape her malign and ancient father, who wants to use her body as a vessel for his own devilish soul. In the course of her complicated journey, Cassie encounters various famous episodes from the city’s past—in some cases being implicated in their happenings. Thus, she narrowly avoids being fried in a bomber attack during one of the Baedeker Raids of WW2; another time, she escapes (and perhaps inadvertently causes) a fire in the old Norwich library; and elsewhen, she is nearly squashed by a double-decker falling down a sinkhole (an event that actually occurred in the 1970s just down the road from where I live).
As a Norwich native, these events and others resonate to make the story intriguing, although I do wonder whether a non-local would feel quite the same connection, as there seems a certain presumption by the author that the reader will be as familiar with the people and places as he is. Thus, events and locations are often described in only a cursory manner when readers might benefit from a helping hand in their visualisations.
If there is one other matter about which I might take issue, it is the importance to the story of a device that Cassie somehow acquires from her demonic father. This device—of extra-terrestrial origin—turns out to be a God Machine, a Sonic Screwdriver so omnipotent it would likely set The Doctor’s two hearts racing. Amongst its awesome abilities is to be able to mind-talk to humans, slow time, fabricate time portals (as well as facilitate time travel without portals at all), create matter, grow clones from nothing in seconds, absorb memories from the dying, and heal burns. I suspect it could probably prove Fermat’s Last Theorem, beat Magnus Carlson at chess (playing black, in under twenty moves), and make the perfect cuppa. It always seems to me slightly unwise to imbue a fictional device with such immense power, for it must provide the author with awful temptations. Can’t figure out a way to resolve a plot line? No problem! I declare Deus Ex Machina, bosh, and all is sorted. But the problem is not just with what such a device can do, but with what it can’t. In this case, for all its power, it is remarkable that the device is unable to cure the cancer it induces in Cassie’s mum (a previous holder)—an odd weakness that is never convincingly explained. But having said all this, and revealed my bugbear, many readers seem to be perfectly fine with the Sonic Screwdriver concept. And let’s face it, time travel itself is an absurdity, so if we’re allowing such a thing in any story, then why not several more improbable things before breakfast?
But quibbles aside, what do we have here? Well, what we have is something that is actually rather fun. Sure, sometimes it’s a headache trying to work out what the blazes is going on, and which Cassie is which, and what any particular version has, is, or will be about to do, but that’s why paracetamol was invented. It’s frantic, harum-scarum stuff. It’s also clever, smoothly written, with a relatable character to root for and a pantomime villain in her father (Boo! Hiss!). I suspect Dr. Who fans will lap this up (and frankly, I’d rather face Cassie’s satanic dad than get on the wrong side of them), so it’s definitely worth a go.