Okay, who likes time travel?
Not me, particularly. I mean, it’s not a trope I run away from screaming, but in general I’ve got this little twitch backward: Oh, time travel, really? Insert a little pause, a bit of foot-dragging, Well, I guess I’ll try it. Sometimes I do like a time travel story, in fact I suppose it’s not that rare that I like one, but still there’s that slight reluctance.
So I’m not sure why I picked up Extracted in the first place. Maybe I didn’t realize it was a time travel novel. Maybe it was recommended by somebody. Maybe it was a BookBub deal or something.
Still, I read Extracted and liked it well enough to go on with the second book, which was GREAT and then the third, which was a tiny bit closer to meh than GREAT. A fourth book would improve the series ending because poof, it wouldn’t be the ending anymore. In the meantime, I actually highly recommend the first two as a duology, while leaving the third for a bit to see if a fourth appears.
Okay, so Extracted and Exploded, the “Duology.” Let me try to tell you about them without important spoilers. I mean, there are going to be some light spoilers for the first book or I couldn’t tell you a single thing about the second book, but I do think nothing here would interfere your reading experience.
So, then. The first book begins with a mysterious and not that interesting (to me) prologue in which a man about to commit suicide is stopped by his son, a young savant who, it turns out, invented a time machine so he could go back and stop his father from the suicide. The father then discovers, via a little tentative exploration with the time machine, that there’s a problem in the near future: something awful happened and everybody is dead, cities left in ruins. To stop this, he recruits, in quick succession, three people who have, he hopes, the skills necessary to figure out what happened and stop it from happening.
There, that’s the basic idea.
So the first book offers a tremendous amount of setup. These three people are extracted from their original timelines at the moments they would originally have died. I’ll name them here for easy reference: Ben, Safa, Harry.
However, the guy whose bright idea all this was mishandles everything and Ben falls into a deep clinical depression. Ninety percent of the first book takes place with Ben in this state . . . okay, fine, probably not quite that high a percentage. Sixty percent, say. Thirty? Probably somewhere between twenty and thirty percent of the story, but it just seems to stretch out and out. Not that this part is completely uninteresting, but for a long time Safa is trying to snap Ben out of it and it’s not working.
I’m probably making this book seem unappealing. Actually, there is quite a bit of excitement. The three extractions. Various other operations, some of which go wrong. People die. So the rest of the team goes back to an earlier point and does something else and recovers them before they die – ah, yes, time travel! Unpredictable consequences ramify outward. It becomes clear that someone suspects the existence of the time machine, and that this is a problem. The whole world-is-destroyed thing takes a back burner, as everyone tries to stay one step ahead of everyone else. Sure looks like the bad guys are going to win –
– and right at the end, someone else appears and takes over as the officer in charge, pulling everybody out of the fire and back, at least, into the frying pan. Because time travel! This is the kind of story where wild deus ex machina moments are completely normal and even expected. Honestly, a lot of the desperate fighting-for-survival scenes must have been so much fun to write, it almost makes me want to write a time travel story of my own.
The second book, Exploded, is the one in which our heroes are finally in shape to deal with the big issues. We’re done with the setup, Ben has long since been pulled out of his depression, the team is operating as a team, goals are clear(-ish) and Miri, the woman now in charge, is a world more competent than the initial guy who was trying to run things.
So, having read the second book, I can say:
a) I like the characters.
They’re probably a bit one dimensional, but in a way that works. I particularly like Ben, who is the kind of really intelligent, perceptive person who is very difficult to write. Good job by Hayward here. Ben is really believable even though he’s certainly also a bit over the top.
Safa – I didn’t really get Safa in the first book. Her interactions with the others in the second book make her much more understandable as a character. I like her too. She is also a bit over the top, in a completely different way.
I like Harry. Everyone is going to like Harry. Yes, he is also a bit over the top.
And then Miri is kind of like Janus in Wexler’s The Thousand Names. You sure hope she’s really a good guy, because if she’s actually a bad guy in disguise, everyone is so screwed.
b) The story is really exciting!
A ton of fast-paced action, with many well-placed deus ex moments because, remember, time travel! Honestly, I’m not sure I’ve seen so many well-deployed plot twists since Patrick Lee’s The Breach trilogy, and that’s definitely saying something.
This story was exciting enough that I really must dis-recommend it as bedtime reading. If you’ve been reading this book as bedtime approaches, you may want to set it aside and read something calmer for a while. Or play solitaire. Look at kitten videos on the internet. Something in that general realm.
c) The writing is good.
But a little annoying because it’s in third-person-present-tense and my WIP is third-person-past-tense and then the present-tense thing would get in my head when I was thinking about my upcoming scenes and, well, that is probably not an issue for most of you, so it’s fine.
I’m sure one might pick stylistic nits with this duology, depending on your personal pet peeves, but the writing is very clean; none of the minor issues that annoy me in a lot of books, no confusion of may/might, no use of “was” when it should’ve been “had been” – I guess verb tenses are something you’d better have down cold if you’re writing a time travel story – nothing like that.
Also, there’s plenty of humor. I paused at a couple of places and laughed for well over a minute at something thing that had just happened. The dogs all looked at me like I’d lost my mind. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a thriller with this much humor in it.
d) The ending is excellent.
I mean the ending of Exploded. Which is why you may want to stop there, at the end of the second book, at least for a while.
e) The third book does not have a great ending.
The third book, Extinct, resurrects a concern that should have been finished and done with, something I dislike intensely. Granted, that kind of you-thought-it-was-over-it’s-not-over twist makes more sense in a time travel story, but still. I just did not really believe it. You could call it a gratuitous deus ex thing, rather than an appropriate deus ex thing. I mean, it’s the kind that makes the author look manipulative rather than clever.
Also, I kept wanting to shout JUST SHOOT [REDACTED], WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM? There were about fifty people in position to do this and no one even tried.
In addition, the third book involves extensive villain pov chapters. I hate that. I don’t want to spend time with the bad guys, and besides that, I’m just fine with being surprised by their machinations. I don’t want to see the good guys walking into disaster ahead of time.
But then glimmers of a redemption plotline appeared – I might have missed early signs because I was just skimming the bad-guy pov chapters – and 60% of the way through the book, that solidified. I do like redemption plotlines, so after that I was much more on board with those chapters.
At the end, there was an ending. Something important got tied up. One might suggest that it got tied up rather too briskly given all the buildup.
1. What the hell happened with Alpha?
2. What the hell, Kate?
3. What DOES the future look like now?
Given these wildly dangling threads, I do think there will probably be a fourth book. Maybe this year; Extinct only came out just a year ago. But right now, the endpoint of Exploded is a lot better than the endpoint of Extinct. My recommendation is just stop there for now.
I will also mention that all three books are really great deals as Kindle ebooks right now.