Dispel Illusion by Mark Lawrence
I told (her) that this had been the time I was going to allocate to catching up on all those great fantasy books I never managed to get round to reading. She told me that they were still publishing great fantasy books, with more coming out each week than I could read in a year. I told her to shut up.
“Every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part we call ‘the Prestige,” claims Christopher Nolan’s script in his 2006 film of the same name. This third act of an illusion must rely on the strength of its premise and the faith of its audience for the prestige to succeed. For fans of Mark Lawrence’s Impossible Times trilogy, the concluding novella Dispel Illusion delivers the prestige with the precision of a master storyteller at the top of his game. It is a shrewd, skillfully constructed, and wholly fulfilling conclusion to a tale that defies comparison.
I was a seeker of truth. By nature and by profession. Lies, falsehood, ignorance. These were my enemies. The idea that a lie could be a savior… that was a new and alien concept to me.
I enjoy books that challenge the reader, and this series raises as many questions as it answers. While the first two books have Nick scrambling to figure out the logistics behind time travel, Dispel Illusion deals with the consequences of time manipulation once you have it under your control. If you go back in time, are your actions still predestined even if you know you could avoid them? What if you choose instead to fork into a new future but risk a reality-shredding paradox? What is your moral responsibility to the universe against your own personal needs?
But this story isn’t all time-manipulation and reality-forking. While the book drops a few head-spinning bombshells like “the complex pattern of reinforcing feedback cycles feeding energy in at a rate calibrated to the elasticity of local space-time should have built relentlessly to reach the target level,” it knows when to switch gears and explore a new mystery, or amp up the fraught tension and humor.
A reoccurring theme in this trilogy is how real-life challenges are juxtaposed with the Dungeons and Dragons scenarios our group finds themselves facing. (It just goes to show that D&D doesn’t rot the brain, but inspires creativity and lateral thinking, Mom and Dad!!) These chapters offer excellent breathers between the heady time trails and philosophical head-scratchers while infusing plenty of character depth and a healthy dose of snark.
‘What’s the longest this might take?’
‘Well, on the assumption that protons decay, we can expect the heat death of the universe to occur in around… well, it’s a one followed by about a hundred zeros years. And after that the concept of time becomes somewhat problematic. So before then.'
What I find most impressive about Dispel Illusion is how every mystery presented in One Word Kill--even the nearly-forgotten, offhand references—had their explanations revealed. This story felt as if it were a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle in which you could mostly see what the overall picture was, but by the time the book ended, every single piece slotted into place. The final intersection of plot threads and timelines within the story was enough to convince me that this trilogy is secretly an autobiography. I’m not sure how else Lawrence was able to cross all his ‘t’s and dot all his ‘i’s without having to go back in time once or twice to correct a few inevitable inconsistencies. (I’m onto you, Lawrence. DM me some upcoming sports results and I’ll make sure that this paragraph is just a funny thing for readers to skim over and forget about by dinnertime.)
I could ramble on about all the brainy twists, the tenderness, love, sacrifice, adventure, and exceedingly intelligent ‘what if’ ideas that were followed through to the end of this novella. Perhaps I already did and decided to jump back for a re-do. If I did it right, you’ll never know. What you should know is that Dispel Illusion is a brilliant finish to the Impossible Times trilogy, rife with unpredictability, nostalgia, and ceaseless imagination.
ARC via author. On sale November 14, 2019.
Adam Weller, 9.2/10
Dispel Illusion is the conclusion to Mark Lawrence’s Impossible Times trilogy. Like its two predecessors, this is a twisty tale with wonderful sci-fi underpinnings. But where it truly excels is in giving an entirely satisfying conclusion to the various threads left hanging by the first two novels in the series. Lawrence has given us an ending to his trilogy that sticks the landing.
Like the previous two books in the series, Lawrence does a fantastic job of crafting the character of Nick Hayes. The first-person perspective is wonderfully written. In this novel we see events in various years throughout the timeline that has been established by the previous books. Lawrence uses this to great effect, showing us a character that is growing and changing, right before our eyes. The characterization has been spot on in the entire series, and this concluding volume is no exception to that. This is certainly true for Nick, but extends to the other characters as well. If you enjoy wonderfully crafted characters, this is definitely a series to enjoy. This volume has less discussions of quantum theory, relying on what has been established already in the series. This allows the discussion to turn more to questions of inevitability, fate, destiny, and how decisions have meaning - or not. But these very philosophical ideas are grounded in down-to-earth characters. The action never really lets up, either, keeping the pages turning until the very end. Beyond even this, the plotting and reveals in this one were amazing. I can’t give details because of spoilers, but everything - every single question - someone could possibly have left after reading One Word Kill is tied up. The way the plot intersects with what we already know, but still keeps us on the edge of our seats, is fabulous. I’m not sure what more I can say. I loved this one and was on the edge of my seat the entire time. Well done!
There isn’t much to dislike about Dispel Illusion, either. I might have liked to have seen just a little more resolution for some of the side characters - one in particular - but I don’t know that the story demanded it. Having stuck the landing so well, adding more might not have been wise. There was also an element to this one where I felt like, being the third in the series, the ideas weren’t quite as fresh as in One Word Kill, but again, that’s to be expected.
I highly recommend this novel. Lawrence gives a wonderful example of what it looks like to end a series well, in a satisfying manner, with all the threads wrapped up but without feeling too tidy. I loved this one, and if you’ve enjoyed the rest of the Impossible Times trilogy, I think you will too.
Calvin Park, 9/10
All reviews for Mark Lawrence's Impossible Times
One Word Kill
Impossible Times #1
In January 1986, fifteen-year-old boy-genius Nick Hayes discovers he’s dying. And it isn’t even the strangest thing to happen to him that week.Nick ...
Impossible Times #2
One choice. Two possible timelines. And a world hanging in the balance.It’s the summer of 1986 and reluctant prodigy Nick Hayes is a student at Cambridge Unive...
Impossible Times #3
Sometimes being wrong is the right answer.Nick Hayes’s genius is in wringing out the universe’s secrets. It’s a talent that’s allowed him to ...
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