Bearing an Hourglass
Length: 357 pages, standard paperback page size/font
On to the second book in this series. I approached this one with some trepidation. As the title implies, this one focuses on the Incarnation of Time, which made it stand to reason that time travel would be involved in some capacity. That's a very tricky thing to do well, and frankly, the previous book didn't leave me with much hope that Anthony could pull it off effectively. This turned out to be a moot point in the end, but I'll get to that shortly.
First and foremost, if nothing else, I have to give Anthony credit for making Norton (the protagonist) into a fairly cool dude. I mean, he's still politely sexist in the same way that Zane was in On a Pale Horse, but at least he's not a broke emo loser. Granted, he is still broke, but rather than lamenting that fact to an annoying degree, he just camps out in parks and swaps companionship for meals, which is a pretty neat and original way to live (well, original in a setting where traveling minstrels and the like aren't commonplace, but I digress).
During the camp outing that opens the book, Norton meets a ghost named Gawain, who was a dragon slayer. See, Gawain has the problem of having been married to a cute chick after he died, so now he needs a living man to help give him an heir. It's a pretty fucked up situation, if you ask me, but whatever, a world where beings like Time, Death, and Satan are actual people is free to have some fucked up elements. Anyway, obviously, Gawain manages to talk Norton into going along with it. Norton's still pretty hesitant about it even after meeting the wife (Orlene) and being smitten more or less instantly, which I liked. It's good when characters are willing to call out finding themselves in fucked up situations rather than just going along with it blithely, even if the end result is the same. Sadly, Orlene is yet another Piers Anthony female caricature (I need a shorthand term for that, since I expect it to come up again and again), but at least she has some marginal excuse in that she's got a magic gift for literally seeing how good of a match people are for each other, so she's got objective evidence of Norton being a perfect mate for her.
Norton does impregnate Orlene eventually, but before things can go happily ever after, Gawain reveals that he shit the bed by asking Nature to make the child be more as if it was his, and in doing so, she gave the baby a genetic disease. Not intentionally, mind, but still, it happened, and so the kid was fated to die shortly. Since baby souls are so balanced in the rules of this setting, Death shows up to take the soul personally, and he has a chat with Norton while doing so (which, incidentally, reveals that this book is indeed a chronological sequel to On a Pale Horse, since Death is Zane here and references his meeting with Time when he'd started on the job). This leaves Norton with a good impression, so after Orlene gets so depressed about losing her kid that she commits suicide and leaves Norton adrift on his own, Norton decides to go along with it when he's offered the position of becoming the new Time.
And this, this right here? This is the point where things start going downhill.
See, Time lives backwards. I really hope that I'm not the only person who thinks that sounds incredibly dumb. He doesn't age backwards or anything like that, so at least there's that, and he's out of phase with the rest of the world so it's not as if there's some dude actually doing everything backwards all the time that nobody seems to mind, but it's still just so senseless. Not to mention that it makes it essentially take a series of Stable Time Loops for him to communicate with anyone who's out of phase with him until he learns how to align himself with forward time, which again seems like adding complexity for its own sake.
Putting that aside, the rest of the plot can be summed up as Satan keeps manipulating the shit out of Norton/Time, and then Norton does some time traveling to fix it. That's...that's pretty much it, really.
Now, if you've read some of my other book reviews, you'll know that I try to avoid spoilers if I can give a decent accounting of the book without them. Sometimes, though, there's just something about the book that I can't avoid talking about without some spoilers, and this is one of those cases.
The fact of the matter is that this book probably has one of the most impotent climaxes that I've ever read. It wasn't as outright infuriating as the plot hole climax in Dark Creed, but it was just about every bit as effect in destroying whatever good the rest of the book had done. After going through so many hoops due to Satan's machinations and further hoops to fix what his mistakes along the way, the big payoff is when Norton...decides that it's not going to work on him anymore. I wish I was making that up, but that really is the basic thrust of it. Oh, wait, and he also makes Satan go backward in time for a moment just to fuck with him. It's just so unfulfilling in any way. Right up to the point where Norton saw how to walk out of the illusory world he kept getting cast into, I was with this book. It wasn't great, but it was somewhere around a B- in my mind. After that, though, I just couldn't believe that someone could actually write this book, and other people could review it in the editing process, and none of them thought that this was an awful ending that fell so flat that it ruined the preceding 300-some pages.
I don't think anything more needs to be said. However, while ending there would be a bit of a meta jab at how Bearing an Hourglass ended, I should be fair to it in saying that it did improve on a few aspects that bothered me with On a Pale Horse. Time's role felt more meaningful than Death's (even if he basically tried to reverse everything that he fucked up on accident). The social commentary and insults directed towards the real world neither as frequent nor as jarring. As mentioned, Norton was a likeable character. They're all steps in the right direction. The shitty ending makes it tempting to overlook them, and they didn't stop me from giving the work such a bad rating, but if nothing else, I was able to enjoy reading the book up until that flaccid climax more than I was with On a Pale Horse. Ultimately, though, I said that On a Pale Horse wasn't worth reading for its own sake, and while Bearing an Hourglass did improve on some aspects of it, the book as a whole is a worse product. Avoiding it is recommended.
Length: 357 pages, standard paperback page size/font