Tuesday I finished Lance Parkin’s Warlords of Utopia, his Faction Paradox novel that recounts the trans-temporal war between the timelines where Rome never fell and the timelines where Germany won the Second World War.
Warlords is not a conventional novel. Rather, the book feels like a memoir. The narrator, Marcus Americanus Scriptor, states at the outset that he is a professional historian, and the perspective he provides on events–the discovery of other “worlds,” the trans-temporal trade that developed, the discovery of non-Roman worlds under Nazi rule–is somewhat detached despite Scriptor’s involvement in many of the novel’s pivotal events. In the central third of the novel, once Scriptor experiences his first encounter with Nazism, the story takes on a traditional narrative style.
The first third of the novel sees some incredible world-building as Roma I is described and comparisons made between it and the other Roman worlds. Once the story’s focus shifts to German worlds world-building falls away as the worlds described are closer to the world we inhabit. Because of Warlords‘s style as a memoir characters are virtually non-existent–people are mentioned, appear on the stage, but there is very little development. Scriptor’s own wife sees more development in her doppelganger from a German-occupied world than in the version from Roma I.
One of the treats of the novel comes in the references it makes to other alternate histories. Monty Python’s Life of Brian receives a few mentions (a Roman world with a Brianist, rather than a Christian, religion), as does Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle and Robert Harris’ Fatherland. References such as these are non-intrusive to non-fans.
For a Faction Pardox novel, the Faction plays curiously little role in the novel’s events, not appearing until approximately the midway point in Warlords. This may be due to Warlords‘s origins as a Doctor Who novel proposal, and I confess to some curiosity as to where and how the eighth Doctor would have fit into these events. I think I know–the TARDIS materializes on a German-occupied world just prior to the Roman invasion, with the Doctor and his companions believing at first that history has gone horribly wrong, only to become caught in events as the Roman attack proceeds from world to world–in other words, near the beginning of Warlords‘s third part.
In general I liked Warlords of Utopia. I found the story to be a gripping page-turner. It’s shorter, and by a good bit, than either of the previous Faction Paradox novels, but I can’t imagine this story being any longer. Fans of alternate history would enjoy Warlords. Recommended.