Limited Wish (Impossible Times #2) by Mark Lawrence

Limited Wish (Impossible Times #2) by Mark Lawrence (May 2019, 47 North), is the sequel to One Word Kill, which I reviewed here.  It begins with a brief recap of book 1, which was thoughtful, because though I remembered things more or less, this a complicated sort of time travel, with lots of alternate pathways and various twisty shenanigans of continuum manipulation.

When we meet Nick again, its still the 1980s, he's still 16, still in remission from Leukemia, and still playing D. and D. with his group of friends.  But now he's a student at Cambridge.  Knowing he was going to have to come up with the mathematics for time travel kicked him into high gear, and he mathematically muscled his way into studying with the one conveniently located person who might be able to work with him to do this.  But though the math goes well, the rest of his life is pretty crumby. Mia has broken off their relationship that had just begun in the first book, largely in reaction to fate throwing them together (more literally than is usually the case).  In D. and D., his saving throws are 1s, and in real life, statistically improbable events (like an exploding chip shop) are becoming everyday occurrences.  A build-up of paradoxes has caused time to become a shaken bottle of soda, and unless it's calmed down, it will pop, taking Nick with it.

Nick's future self, and someone else from his future, are showing up in his present and trying to figure out how to unravel the paradoxes.  Thought there's a violent element involved (slightly contrived), this unravelling is  basically a matter of social dynamics, calculated risks, and lots of good math (impossible without the contributions of a girl who's even more brilliant than Nick).  In the end, when Nick has to choose between two alternate futures to calm things down, it comes down to him deciding to act as if he were a free agent, like anyone else, choosing to be loyal to himself, right there in the present.

I don't really like complications for the sake of complications, and lots of alternate future paths spinning off in all directions don't do much for me.  But Lawrence does a rather remarkable job having both complications and alternate paths kept firmly within a coherent narrative with a single main story, that of Nick's experience as a 16 year old genius teen living with the fear of death from  cancer, and more ordinary social anxiety.  He is like the still center around which the busy story spins, although he is making his own interior journey.  He knows his choices will effect future time lines, but he has the wisdom in the end to realize that's true for everyone.

Adding to my enjoyment was Nick's love for math-- I like craft books, in which characters are immersed in the making of things they love, and for Nick, equations are his craft, and it was lovely (disclaimer--I don't do math myself, so this is considerable praise).  I also enjoyed the details of the D. and D. game--an alternate adventure of choices and consequences nicely nested in the main story.

I don't think the sleek sci-fi cover captures the feel of the book; something more 1980s campy fantasy would have been closer--beautiful Cambridge students falling out of a punt while an explosion happens in the distance sort of thing.

I would have been happy with the series ending here; though there is lots still unresolved, that's the way life is.  But I just realized there's a third book,  Dispell Illusion (another D. and D. spell...), and I look forward to seeing what illusions will be dispelled!

1 comment:

  1. Wow. There is a lot going on here. Thanks for telling me about this book.


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