Vellum: The Book of All Hours [NOOK Book]


An extraordinary, incendiary debut from a rare new talent, Vellum showcases a complex and sophisticated level of writing coupled with a fecund imagination that defies description.


It’s 2017 and angels and demons walk the earth. Once they were human; now they are unkin, transformed by the ancient machine-code language of reality itself. They ...
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Vellum: The Book of All Hours

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An extraordinary, incendiary debut from a rare new talent, Vellum showcases a complex and sophisticated level of writing coupled with a fecund imagination that defies description.


It’s 2017 and angels and demons walk the earth. Once they were human; now they are unkin, transformed by the ancient machine-code language of reality itself. They seek The Book of All Hours, the mythical tome within which the blueprint for all reality is transcribed, which has been lost somewhere in the Vellum–the vast realm of eternity upon which our world is a mere scratch.

The Vellum, where the unkin are gathering for war.

The Vellum, where a fallen angel and a renegade devil are about to settle an age-old feud.

The Vellum, where the past, present, and future will collide with ancient worlds and myths.

And the Vellum will burn. . . .

From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Scottish author Hal Duncan's debut novel -- a truly singular blend of dark fantasy, religious myth, and hard-core existentialism -- is like a 100,000-piece puzzle depicting a Jackson Pollock painting. Brilliantly complex, thematically abstract, and at times frustratingly difficult to follow, this epic saga about the age-old war between good and evil encompasses everything from Greek and Sumerian mythology to the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard to the Spanish Civil War!

The Book of All Hours is a legendary tome, supposedly commissioned by God, that contains the grand design of all realities past, present, and future. Enter Reynard Carter, member of a family rumored to have been guardians of the book -- a family with "not just skeletons in the closet, but skeletons with bones engraved with mystic runes, in closets with false walls that hid dark tunnels leading deep, deep underground." As Reynard (and a handful of other time- and space-hopping characters) traverse the otherworlds of the Vellum wandering through myth and legend, their journeys are just a small part of a much larger, more significant conflict…

Fantasy fans looking for some mindless escapism should definitely look elsewhere; Duncan's Vellum is one of those rare works of speculative fiction that will intellectually challenge and provoke from the first page to the last. Like other demanding and sophisticated literary works -- Stepan Chapman's The Troika, Neil Gaiman's American Gods, Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, to name a few -- the sublime experience of Duncan's highly intelligent and genre-transcendent first novel will resonate in readers' collective subconscious for a long time after the last page is turned. A virtuoso debut. Paul Goat Allen
Publishers Weekly
Scottish author Duncan's challenging SF debut, the first in a two-book series about an epic battle between good and evil, reveals the history of the advanced, ancient and powerful civilization of Kur through Egyptian, Babylonian and East Indian myth as well as bitmites, cyber-avatars and warring bands of fallen angels. A book, The Vellum (aka The Book of All Hours), is both portal to parallel realities and guide to a language of power that can be both inscribed in the skin and on the soul. Since individual characters like Seamus Finnan, Jack Carter, Thomas Messenger and Thomas's sister, Phreedom, whose lives are destroyed, prolonged and forever scarred by contact with a realm called the Vellum, tend to appear and reappear at intervals often 20 or 40 years apart, their adventures in the human, parallel and cyber universes can be hard to follow. Readers who persevere will find this a truly rewarding read. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
KLIATT - Ginger Armstrong
In this literary fantasy, angels and demons are called unkin and battle for recruitment of renegade unkin, those who have not sworn allegiance to either side. The unkin are fighting for control over all worlds including the Vellum, a reality, unknown to humans, that intertwines with our own. The reader experiences this alternate reality through the lives of several characters involved in the fight between good and evil. Phreedom, an unkin with allegiance to no one, searches for her brother Thomas within the Vellum, while constantly on the run from other unkin who want her to join their side. Other characters confront deep, philosophical issues about life, while a former friend of the siblings faces a war as well as his own inner demons. Within the framework of this epic battle, Reynard Carter discovers The Book of All Hours, which includes "the blueprint of reality itself" written by the Almighty's own scribe. The novel includes many flashbacks and flash forwards. This fluctuating timeframe provides readers with their own sense of living in the Vellum. Readers who enjoy novels filled with philosophical theories and postulations on alternate realities will revel in the complexity. Literary and mythological allusions abound as events in the present parallel events in the past or future. Fans of Neil Gaiman's American Gods may find a kindred spirit in this novel. Duncan includes acknowledgments that provide background reading for those interested in the myths portrayed. The story continues with Duncan's forthcoming novel, Ink.
Library Journal
This is the first of two volumes in "The Book of All Hours" series by Scottish debut novelist Duncan. Set in 2017 and partially about a conflict between bionanotechnology-enhanced humans and the rest of the race, the book has sf and fantasy components and is deliberately difficult to categorize per commentary on the author's blog, The meta-story of the millennial conflict between angels and devils is played out in Christian, Sumerian, and future contexts and draws together the stories of Glasgow University student Reynard Carter; American biker girl Phreedom and her brother, Thomas; and the pair's sometime mentor, Seamus Finnan. The characters, some gay, are gritty and believable, and their rough vernaculars ring true. The plot is complex to follow as it weaves through space, time, and the "vellum" reality underneath. Reminiscent of both Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code and Kevin Smith's film Dogma, this novel is suitable for larger public and academic libraries.-Sara Tompson, Univ. of Southern California Lib., Los Angeles Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
“In Vellum–a monstrously brilliant and often hilarious novel of mad Irishmen, bad angels, femmes fatales, and demons–we are presented with the tale of a war occurring throughout the breadth and depth of time and space. Hal Duncan has, at the very least, created the Guernica of science fiction.”
–Lucius Shepard, author of A Handbook of American Prayer

“A mind-blowing read that’s genuinely unlike anything you’ve ever read before . . . Vellum has expanded fantasy’s limits like nothing published in years.”
–SFX (five-star “must-read” review)

“Duncan’s writing is fluent and powerful. He possesses an imagination capable of both conjuring worlds and capturing the intricacies of moments. Vellum is more than a novel; it’s a vision.”
–Jeffrey Ford, author of The Girl in the Glass

“A remarkably ambitious debut novel. For lovers of innovative fantasy, it’s a must-read.”

“Vellum is a revelation–the opening gambit in the career of a mind-blowing colossal talent whose impact will be felt for decades.”
–Jeff VanderMeer, author of City of Saints and Madmen

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345493613
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/25/2006
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 946,485
  • File size: 507 KB

Meet the Author

Born in 1971, Hal Duncan grew up in small-town Ayrshire, Scotland, and now lives in the West End of Glasgow. He is a member of the Glasgow SF Writers’ Circle and is currently working part-time as a computer programmer. Vellum is his first novel.

From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Read an Excerpt


By Hal Duncan

Random House

Hal Duncan
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0345487311

Chapter One

One - A Door Out of Reality

From the Great Beyond

From the Great Beyond she heard it, coming from the Deep Within. From the Great Beyond the goddess heard it, coming from the Deep Within. From the Great Beyond Inanna heard it, coming from the Deep Within.

She gave up heaven and earth, to journey down into the underworld, Inanna did, gave up her role as queen of heavens, holy priestess of the earth, to journey down into the underworld. In Uruk and in Badtibira, in Zabalam and Nippur, in Kish and in Akkad, she abandoned all her temples to descend into the Kur.

She gathered up the seven me into her hands, and with them in her hands, in her possession, she began her preparations.

Her lashes painted black with kohl, she laid the sugurra, crown of the steppe, upon her head, and fingered locks of fine, dark hair that fell across her forehead, touched them into place. She fastened tiny lapis beads around her neck and let a double strand of beads fall to her breast. Around her chest, she bound a golden breastplate that called quietly to men and youths, come to me, come, with warm, metallic grace. She slipped a golden bracelet over her soft hand, onto her slender wrist, and took a lapis rod and line in hand.

And finally, she furled her royal robe around her body.

Inanna set out for theKur, her faithful servant, Lady Shubur, with her.

"Lady Shubur," said Inanna, "my sukkal who gives wise consul, my steadfast support, the warrior who guards my flank, I am descending to the Kur, the underworld. If I do not return then sound a lamentation for me in the ruins. Pound the drum for me in the assemblies where the unkin gather and around the houses of the gods. Tear at your eyes, your mouth, your thighs. Wearing the beggar's single robe of soiled sackcloth, then, go to the temple of the Lord Ilil in Nippur. Enter his sacred shrine and cry to him. Say these words:

"O father Lord Ilil, do not leave your daughter to death and damnation. Will you let your shining silver lie buried forever in the dust? Will you see your precious lapis shattered into shards of stone for the stoneworker, your aromatic cedar cut up into wood for the woodworker? Do not let the queen of heaven, holy priestess of the earth, be slaughtered in the Kur.

"If Lord Ilil will not assist you," she said, "go to Ur, to the temple of Sin, and weep before my father. If he will not assist you, go to Eridu, to Enki's temple, weep before the god of wisdom. Enki knows the food of life; he knows the water of life; he knows the secrets. I am sure he will not let me die."

Thick with Trees and Thunderstorms

North Carolina, where the old 70 that runs from Hickory to Asheville cuts across the 225 running up from the south, from Spartanburg and beyond, up through the Blue Ridge Mountains and a land that's thick with trees and thunderstorms. It's on the map, but it's a small town, or at least it looks it, hidden from the freeway, until you cut down past the sign that says Welcome to Marion, a Progressive Town, and gun your bike slow through the streets of the town center with its thrift stores and pharmacy, fire department, town hall, the odd music store or specialist shop that's yet to lose its market to the Wal-Mart just a short drive down the road.

She rides past the calm, brick-fronted architecture that's still somewhere in the 1950s, sleeping, waiting for a future that's never going to happen, dreaming of a past that never really went away, out of the small town center and on to a commercial strip of fast-food restaurants and diners, a steak house and a Japanese, a derelict cinema sitting lonely in the middle of its own car park--all of these buildings just strung along the road like cheap plastic beads on a ragged necklace. She pulls off the road into a Hardee's, switches off the engine and kicks down the bike-stand.

The burger tastes good--real meat in a thick, rough-shapen hunk, not some thin bland patty of processed gristle and fat--and she washes it down with deep sucking slurps of Mountain Dew, and twirls the straw in the cardboard bucket of a cup to rattle the ice as she looks out the window at the road, hot in the summer sun, humid and heavy. The sky is a brilliant blue, the blue of a Madonna's robes, stretching up into forever, stretching--

--and she stands in front of the mirror in the washroom, leaning on the sink a second, dizzy with a sudden buzz, a hum, a song that ripples through her body like the air over a hot road shimmers in the sun. The Cant. Shit, she thinks. She must be getting close. She looks at the watch sitting up on top of the hand-dryer. The second hand flicks back and forth, random, sporadic, like one of those airplane instruments in a movie where the plane is going down in an electrical storm.

It's August 4th, 2017. Sort of.

Steady again, she studies her eyes, black with mascara and with lack of sleep, and pushes her dark red hair back from her forehead. Even splashing more water on her face she still feels like a fucking zombie. Fucking zombie retro biker chick, she thinks. Beads in her hair, a beaded choker round her neck, a chicken-bone charm necklace over a gold circuit-patterned T-shirt. Shit, she looks like her fucking techno-hippy mother.

She picks up her watch and slips it over her wrist, reels out the earphones from the stick clipped to her belt and puts them in, clipping them into the booster sockets in her earrings so her lenses can pick up the video signals. The Sony VR5 logo flickers briefly across her vision as she shoulders her way out through the door, tapping at the datastick to switch it onto audio-only. She doesn't need a heads-up weather forecast with ghost images of clouds or sunbursts, or a Routefinder sprite floating at every turnoff to point her this way or that. Not today.

She grabs her helmet from the handlebar of the bike and puts it on as she swings her leg up over the seat, flicks up the stand, zips up her leather biker jacket, kicks the engine into life.

The antique creature of steel and chrome growls between her legs, and another antique creature--one of leather and vinyl--screams in her ears.

"Looooooooooooooord!" howls Iggy Pop, and the murderous guitar of the Stooges' TV Eye kicks in, as Phreedom Messenger opens up the throttle on the bike and roars out of her pit stop on the way to hell.

whore of babylon, queen of heaven

And Inanna continued on her way toward the underworld. She journeyed from ancient Sumer up the land between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, through the whole of Babylon and into Hittite Haran. She traveled into Canaan with the Habiru who called her Ishtar. She went with them into Egypt and they called her Ashtaroth when she returned, leaving behind only a memory, the myth of Isis. She saw god-kings and city-states rise and fall, patriarchs murdered by sons who took their places and their names, armies and wars of territory and dominion. She traveled with the armies, with the whores and the musicians and the eunuch priests, offering solace in their tents, in tabernacles of sex and salvation. She had bastard sons by kings. She washed the feet of gods amongst men.

She saw villages burned and statues toppled. She saw kingdoms become federations, federations become empires. She saw whole dynasties of deities overthrown, their names and faces obliterated from the monuments they'd built, so, unlike them, she took new names, new faces. Times changed and she changed with them. She never accepted the new order that was tearing down the old around her, but she knew better than to fight it, watching the others stripped of honor, stripped of reverence, stripped of godhood, still calling themselves Sovereigns even as the Covenant shattered every idol in their temples. So she traveled as supplicant, as refugee, with mystery as her protector rather than force, cults rather than armies. She saw the seeds she dropped behind her take root in the earth and grow only to be crushed by military boots. She traveled with slaves and criminals.

She went from Israel, to Byzantium and Rome, this Queen of Heaven, Blessed Mother, full of grace, her new name and old titles echoing amongst the vaults of stone cathedrals, spaces as vast and hollow as the temples left long empty in Uruk and Badtibira, Zabalam and Nippur, Kish and Akkad.

She traveled in statues and pietas, painted in indigo and gold in old Renaissance frescoes, Russian icons; traveled to the New World with conquistadors and missionaries, to plantations where the slaves danced round the fires at night, possessed by gods, by saints, by loas and orishas; journeyed across time to a New Age of carnival mythologies and stars worshipped in glossy parchments sold at newsstands, of rosaries and Tarot cards and television earth mothers fussing over the broken hearts and wounded prides of soft, spoiled inner children.

She journeyed on the road of no return, to the dark mansion of the god of death, the house where those who enter never leave, where those who enter lose all light, and feed on dust, clay for their bread. They see no sun; they dwell in night, clothed in black feathers of the carrion crow. Over the door and the bolt of the dark house, dust settles, moss and mildew grow.

She stopped, this Whore of Babylon, this Queen of Heaven. Inanna stopped before the entrance to the underworld, and turned to look back at her servant who had followed her down through the centuries, the millennia.

"Go now, Lady Shubur," she said. "Do not forget my words."

"My Queen," says Lady Shubur.


A Sculpture of Time and Space

She shifts the engine to a lower gear, a lower growl, swings low and wide around the corners, slower as the bike climbs the steep, winding road into the mountains. White wooden churches stand with bible quotes lettered on hoardings at the side of the road, and shabby prefab houses perch in their little plots with leaning porches and pots of dying flowers in hanging baskets. They nestle in amongst the deep trees of bear and deer; this is hunting territory, a place of pickup trucks and men in armored vests with high-powered rifles and coolers filled with beer. Stars and Stripes on every house. On a dirt track coming off the road at her right-hand side a rustbucket of a car sits up on bricks, the legend #1 Dawg scrawled in paint across the battered panels of its side.

The bike swings left and right in wide curves round the tight corners and she leans down into them, following the flow, the rhythm of the constant turns and twists. The road snakes on right up into the hills and she snakes with it, like a cobra reared up ready to strike but swaying side to side, charmed by the music in its contours, switching gears, from growl to roar and back again. Slow and wide. Fast and tight. Left. Right. Left. Right. Sunlight flickers blinding white through the canopy of trees like the end of an old celluloid film rattling through a projector.

The road cuts deep into the sharp-carved shadows of tall trees for a second, slices between dark juts of moss-slicked rock and through a concrete underpass; and she takes the circling slip road off to the right and turns and turns, and then she's up and out and on the Blue Ridge Parkway, riding the wide road that runs from mountain spine to mountain spine along the length of the whole range. And the sun is hot but the air is clear and crisp as a cool spring and she can look out to her left and to her right and see the world on either side, the hills in the beyond, the valleys in between, the vast, green, rough, soft sculpture of time and space, of earth and sky.

It's places like this that you can't tell where the world ends and the Vellum begins, she thinks. For all its asphalt artifice, for all the wooden mileage signposts scattered along its way, for all that you can look down into the valleys and still see the houses and churches, schools and factories of small towns cradled in the folds, up here reality, like the air, is thinner. The road is just a scratch on the skin of a god; if you came off it, she thinks, if you smashed straight through one of the low wooden fences and shot out into the air, you might crash right out of this world and into another, into a world empty of human life or filled with animal ghosts.

But those aren't the kind of world she's looking for, not by a long shot.

Inanna at the Gates of Hell

"Gatekeeper, open up your gate for me," Inanna called. "If you refuse, I'll smash this door, shatter the bolt, splinter the post. I'll tear these doors down and raise up the dead to feast upon the living, until there are more dead souls walking in the world than are alive."

Inanna stood before the outer gates of Kur, and she knocked loudly.

"Open the doors, you keeper of the gate," she cried, her voice fierce. "Open up the doors, Neti! I come alone and ask for entry."

"And who are you?" asked Neti, surly chief gatekeeper of the Kur.

"I am Inanna, Queen of Heavens, on my way into the West."

"If you are really Queen of Heavens," Neti said, "and on your way into the West, Inanna, why, why has your heart made you a traveler on the road of no return?"

"My sister, Eresh of the Greater Earth," Inanna answered, "is the reason. I have come to see the funeral rites of Gugalanna, Bull of Heaven, her dead husband. I have come to see the rites, the funeral beer of his libations poured into the cup. Now open up."

"Wait here, Inanna," Neti said, "and I will give your message to my queen."

And Neti, chief keeper of the gates of Kur, turned and entered the palace of Eresh, the Queen of the Underworld, of the Greater Earth.

Mary or Anna, Esther or Diana, Phreedom flicks through the many cards she carries in her wallet, all the identities she travels in. She picks one out almost at random--an Anna, this time--hands it to the clerk behind the counter. He smiles at her and she can't help herself from thinking of the cheap motels she's stayed in where the clerks are all sim sprites, electronic ghosts with just enough AI behind them to take care of check-ins and check-outs.


Excerpted from Vellum by Hal Duncan Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

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( 13 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 28, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    a beautifully cerebral piece of art.

    this is a heavy read. a waaay heavy read. not for the narrow minded nor those that pride themselves as advanced readers because they got through The Stand. Duncan tackles homophobia, religion, war and ethics with a prose so lyrical, i would read passages aloud just to feel the words on my tongue. simply exquisite.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 3, 2009

    If I met him in person I would hate this author immediately!

    This book was needlessly confusing. The author referred to too many obscure mythological legends that you more than likely never heard of. He did not bother to explain where it came from and therefore could not make his story "believable". I found it imppossible to develop any feelings for the primary characters. The story kept jumping around and I found myself getting frustrated instead of engaged. I had to force myself to finish this book just because I bought it! And yes, I DID buy it because the cover looked intriguing. The person who wrote the synopsis on the cover should have ghost written this book............

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2010

    Couldn't even finish.. won't pass it on

    There were so many things I disliked about this book, the broken up random story flow, the ambiguously sexed but constantly obsessed over angel behavior. What was the point of this book? If there was any power in the story, or point to the story, besides being bleak and crude, vile and lascivious, I would have enjoyed it. But no.. I love books, all kinds, and this is only the second book I have ever thrown away. It stunk.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2007

    takes effort

    A lot of effort to follow this story. The story jumps from one point in time to another point in time way to often. On one page there could be three paragraphs talking about three different points in time about three different people. Sometimes you don't have a clue who it is referring to or who is doing the talking. Unkin may not be linear but us readers are. This would have been much better and enjoyable story if things were not so jumbled together. A nice chapter focusing on one thing at a time would be more easy to digest. There is a good story buried in the text if you can get past all the work it takes to find it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 10, 2007

    Truly Engrossing

    One of the best books I've read in the last few years. The plot is complex and sometimes a little confusing, but it's all worth it in the end. The prose itself is astonishing, visceral, a character in itself. The characters, though they change in ways both large and small across space, time, and reality, feel very real, and their complex motivations and histories keep even the 'villains' interesting and multifaceted. All in all, an absolutely fascinating, engaging novel, with never a dull moment.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2007

    A reviewer

    This is a book that makes you concentrate just to keep up with which time/place/person you are reading about. You feel like you have to go back a page and reread it just to make sure you are where you think you are in the story. The concept is great, which is what drew me to buy it. But the constant flpping back and forth from date to story to just tries way way to hard.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2006

    Complexity for complexity's sake?

    This book reads like the author wrote a few seperate novels, came up with a central theme and then threw them into a blender with the intention of confusing readers. The idea of parallel universes and characters being archtypes from many different myths has been handled much better elsewhere. By the end of the novel I really didn't care about any war between good and evil, I just wanted to see how he would possibly create an ending with any coherence and frankly he did not. All in all a slightly entertaining, convoluted, self indulgent work that could have used some heavy editing.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    very complex somewhat (rightfully so) convoluted thriller

    In 2017 Guy Carter had spent several fruitless years searching for the book in which God told Metatron the angel every instant place and time. However, now Guy has succeeded in finding The Book of All Hours in his college library. However, he is a bit surprised to see that the tome that is supposed to be God¿s atlas of everything everywhere and everyone is actually a collection of maps. He sort of recognizes places, but they also seem slightly off kilter as he sits and examines his discovery. --- As Guy continues his diligent read, reality shifts so that when he finally leaves the library no people exist seemingly anywhere. He has left his earth via the book and entered the Vellum that ties eternity together through the Word of God. Confused Guy struggles with a hyperbolic perhaps exponential universe linear is nonexistent. Meanwhile Metatron wants to bring order out of the perceived chaos, but he has devilish enemies who prefer the designed pandemonium. --- The above two ¿linear¿ paragraphs barely scratch the surface of a very complex somewhat (rightfully so) convoluted thriller that paints an intelligent design created universe (try teaching this I.D. in school). The story line is not linear as a person can be in two places at the ¿same¿ time and past, present, and future share the same time. Guy is a terrific protagonist though much of the time he is off line as he learns that the eternal feud is coming to a burning climax. --- Harriet Klausner

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    Posted January 16, 2014

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    Posted March 20, 2014

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 10, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 4, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2010

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