When the King Comes Home, by Caroline Stevermer, for Timeslip Tuesday

In my experience with time travel books, I've found very few set in fantasy worlds (ie, worlds, including alternate earths, in which magic works). I have only a handful in my list of Time Travel books (link above, down at the bottom). Today's Timeslip Tuesday book is such a book. When the King Comes Home, by Caroline Stevermer (Tor, 2000) is the only book I've read so far in which the time travel happens through necromancy.*

King Julian never came home from the war 200 years ago, but the people of Aravis kept hoping he might. When the king comes home, they said, wishes will be granted, and dreams come true. With their current king old and decrepit, with no clear heir, and rebellion begining to ferment in outlaying provinces, the need for the good king was clear...

For young Hail Rosamar, life has a more immediate focus. She is an apprentice to one of the great artists of the realm, come from the country to learn her trade in the big city. There she becomes obsessed with the artist Maspero, who designed King Julian's crown, and the walls of his city: a man who crafted King Julian's likeness so vividly that it is imprinted in Hail's mind.

Which is why she is able to recognize King Julian when she finds him trying to fish on the banks of a river outside the city.

The King and his great companion and protector have been brought forward in time by sinister magic, and it is not at all clear if their presence will make anyone's wishes come true. Except perhaps the wishes of those who are plotting to take power for themselves, using the return of good king for their own ends...

It's a lovely exploration of what happens when legends come back from their own time, a nice sub-variant of time travel that I'd be happy to see more of.**

Here's what I liked in particular:

I am awfully fond of books in which people learn crafty things. So although some (on Amazon) have criticized this book for the long pages in which Hail grinds pigment, etc., I liked that part lots. I find it appealing, as well, that Hail's interest in the visual arts continues throughout the book (sometimes so much so as to annoy the other characters),*** and indeed plays a key role in the defeat of the evil magician.

Once Hail meets the first victim of necromancy, the story swings into a much more exciting phase. The good guys (including Hail, who ended up embroigled in it all for various reasons, and a very appealing soldier named Ludovic, charged with keeping an eye on her) spend much time dashing around the countryside and doing court-intriguish things in their efforts to thwart the bad necromancer. Interspersed with the dashings and intriguings are sections of contemplative talk, in which Hail, for instance, gets to hear first hand what her favorite artist was really like. All very pleasant, page-turning reading.

I can't tell you what I didn't like, because it is a spoiler. But I am including a spoilery hint at the very end, because it made me not love the book. It is why I was, moreover, actively disgruntled with this book and wanted to shake Hail. Why I then questioned the shallow and frivolous nature of the expectations I bring to books. However, what to my mind was a sad failing in the book was seen as the just opposite by Maureen of By Singing Light, whose mention of the book brought it to my attention....

When the King Comes Home, by the way, is set in the same world as A College of Magics, but there's no real overlap.

*there the bit in A Wizard of Earthsea when Ged calls up the spirit of Elfarran, but that's all that comes to mind, and it's really a minor part of the story, and I wouldn't call it time travel. Are there other better examples?

**there must be more stories along these lines, but I can't think of them. Does King Arthur ever time travel?

***"Istavan looked grim. "She called him. Somehow. We must learn what she's done. Julian's tomb must be opened."

"It's not a tomb. It's an urn," I said. "Alabaster, of Viennese workmanship." They ignored me." (page 127)

Warning--spoilerish hing coming

Here is the spoilerish hint--

I really enjoy books that have a thread of zesty romance (understated is fine, but enough to give fizz). When I am presented with a very fine person (in this case, Ludovic) who seems to like the heroine more than a little, I tend to build up expectations...


  1. I think this was one of my less-favorite Stevermer books when I first read it. I don't have a 'least'-favorite...just that I enjoyed this one slightly less than I thought I would. And I have to agree with you...I felt the way you did for the same reasons.

    But! When I read it for the second time, I warmed up to the story. Not sure why or if there was anything different - I just liked it more. Not the BEST, you understand, but more.

    p.s. I should totally review some of my older fantasy favorites. Those are the tried and true ones.

  2. I might well like it more next time too--I often find that I like books more on re-reading, because I'm not putting myself in their way with false expectations or confusions.

    And I hope you do review some of your older favorites! I would love (I guess...) to have more books on my tbr pile! But seriously, there are so many really good Pre Blog Era books out there that need attention so that can get more readers....

  3. I'm going to need to reread this. I remember it as being a painfully bitter-sweet book. Beautiful and not at all what I expected, and somewhat hard to come to grips with.

  4. As the late George Scithers used to point out, the oldest time travel story (that he knew of, anyway, and that I know of) is a fantasy.

    Charles Dickens: _A Christmas Carol.)


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