In Time’s Children, D.B. Jackson (Thieftaker, and many more novels written under the name David B. Coe) accomplishes the feat of making the complex incredibly accessible. With a plot spanning three timelines and incorporating magical teleportation, time travel, and political scheming, this series-starter could quickly get lost inside of its own worldbuilding, but Jackson never pauses to over-explain as he builds a breathless, fast-paced adventure that flings headlong through a dense thicket of intrigue, set in a world where danger and high stakes dog the heroes at every turn and the cost of using magic system gives their every decision tremendous weight. It all adds up to a fantastic flintlock fantasy, and the start of what promises to be a thrilling series.
Tobias is a Walker, gifted with the ability to travel through time at the cost of his own lifespan. Trained by the Academy of Travelers, he awaits the day he’ll be given a contract to work for one of the many royal courts. His wish is granted when he is tasked to serve the sovereign of the kingdom of Daerjen, but the appointment is tempered by the assignment that comes with it: a costly walk 15 years into the past, intended to avert a war with the powerful (and more technologically advanced) nation of Oaqamar, whose power-hungry Autarch is threatening to consume the world. Fearing a loss at the hands of temporal meddling, the Autarch blackmails a crew of military travelers and sends them back to wipe Tobias and the sovereign off the face of the clock.
Meanwhile, in a totalitarian future created through both sides’ meddling, Tobias’ former childhood friend Mara senses something is off about the world around her, and sets out with the aid of a time demon to save history, and possibly the world. With demons gathering on the fringes, the Autarch’s devastating new technology in play, and Tobias stranded in the past, there is much to be set right before time runs out.
All time travel novels face a foundational paradox problem: once you introduce the notion that time travel can be used to change the past, what’s to stop people from changing everything? Time’s Children comes up with an innovative way of solving the problem—giving time travel a significant physical cost. “Walkers” who travel back in time end up having that time deducted from their own lifespans; traveling ages them permanently and therefore limits how far back they can go. There’s also another added element of danger: walking is essentially stepping into and through a space outside of everything, devoid of air or light. To go back in time is to fling yourself blindly through space, and hope you come out on the other side. It’s a nifty plot element, and a neat method of clearing up confusing timey-wimey logistical issues.
The cost of time travel hangs over all the other aspects of the book. It makes Tobias’ decision to go back so far all that more meaningful—it’ll either be a one-way trip, or he’ll be stuck as a 15-year-old boy in a 43-year-old man’s body. It also drives the conflict with a major villain, as the Autarch rips a husband and wife’s life apart to assassinate people years in the past and ensure he comes out ahead in the war. And it underscores each side’s morality: the heroes carefully deliberate every choice they must make, terrified of the unforeseen consequences, and who they might hurt, even as the assassins sent after Tobias share no such compunctions, bringing advanced technology back in time with the deliberate intent to tip the scales of war in their favor, when they aren’t wantonly massacring whole swaths of people without regard to the pages of history they are setting alight in the bargain.
With a unique time travel conceit, an breakneck adventure plot spanning three timelines, and a fascinating world that only grows as the story unfurls, Time’s Children is a satisfying start to a tremendously promising series, and leaves off on an an ending guaranteed to hook you into the next book (Time’s Demon, arriving in May 2019). If you love books that mix tropes of sci-fi and fantasy with abandon, make time for this one.