As Limited Wish (2019) begins, Nick Hayes, the 16-year-old math genius that we met in One Word Kill (you need to read it first) is being pursued by a pack of drunken Cambridge students bent on beating him up. It’s 1986 and Nick has just been enrolled at Cambridge, thanks to the notice of Professor Halligan, a brilliant mathematician who recognizes Nick’s potential. What Prof Halligan doesn’t know is that Nick has to invent time travel so that when he’s older he can come visit his teenage self in the late 1980s and, in so doing, save Mia, the girl he thinks he loves and has a future with.
But there are several major problems with this scenario. Worst: (1) Nick has no idea how the mathematics of time travel might work, especially when you throw in the time paradoxes he’s experiencing, and (2) Mia has dumped Nick. Other significant problems include the hazing that Nick is undergoing at Cambridge, the weird instances where he seems to perceive time fragmenting to create multiple potential futures, the fact that he’s met another girl, Helen, who he’s very much attracted to, and some dire news he receives from his oncologist. At this point, Nick is fairly confused and realizing that he may have screwed up his future entirely. He needs to get it back on track if he hopes to survive to save himself and Mia.
Some visitors from the future ― one familiar character and one new one, Eva, who has a surprising connection to Nick ― complicate this process further, especially since they’re from incompatible futures. If that’s not bad enough, another vicious enemy appears who’s tasked by a shadowy investor with keeping Nick on task with his scientific research, and who begins to take an unhealthy interest in Nick because of certain events from One Word Kill. And have we mentioned that the universe is trying to kill Nick? (It’s nothing personal, Eva assures Nick, “just physics.”)
Mark Lawrence’s IMPOSSIBLE TIMES trilogy is reminiscent of (and possibly a celebration of?) 1985’s best movie, Back to the Future. It’s full of time paradoxes and competing versions of the past, present and future that shouldn’t be examined too closely; you’ve just got to deal with it. The number of hard-to-swallow coincidences, like a second villainous Rust brother, and the overload of problems and challenges faced by Nick, are hand-waved away as all part of Nick becoming a lightning rod for changes and paradoxes that the universe wants to prevent. Logically it’s hard to swallow, but if you can roll with it, it does make the story more exciting.
We’re still concerned about the plot issue that Tadiana mentioned in our review of One Word Kill ― we’re simply not convinced that the first instance of time-travel, the one that created all these problems for Nick and his friends, ever needed to happen in the first place. So far, the suffering and confusion that has resulted doesn’t seem worth it. We’re hoping Lawrence is going to convince us otherwise by the end of the trilogy but at this point we’re doubting it, and will reluctantly chalk it up to some extremely unadmirable selfishness or blinkered thinking on Nick’s part.
Fans of One Word Kill will surely enjoy Limited Wish. Other than the change in setting and the addition of a few new characters, it is an expansion of the story in One Word Kill and the prose, characterization, and dialog continue to impress us. We love how Nick talks about the way mathematics underlies the structure of the universe.
[T]here are fabulous beasts that swim in the seas of mathematics. Multidimensional behemoths of incredible beauty that even the best of minds struggle to glimpse. The equations we battle with, the proofs that we use to nibble at the edges of such wonders: these are the shadows cast by those we hunt.
We also love the retro feel of the novel and Kat, especially, can relate to these characters since she was also starting college in the fall of 1986. (And she will admit to occasionally, like Nick, wallowing in teenage misery while listening to Sisters of Mercy ― though she didn’t have as compelling reasons as Nick.)
The titles of the IMPOSSIBLE TIMES trilogy cleverly blend Nick’s personal life with the Dungeons & Dragons game he plays with his friends on the weekends. The title of the first book, One Word Kill, refers to Nick’s cancer diagnosis. Limited Wish, another spell used in Nick’s D&D game, reflects Nick’s realization that he can’t have everything he wants in life. Some things are going to have to be sacrificed. It’s also a metaphor for the idea that sometimes a small wish, or change, can have a major impact, which plays out in an intriguing way in the plot.
The final book is titled Dispel Illusion and will be released in November. We are wondering what illusions will be dispelled…
Kat recommends Brilliance Audio’s versions of the IMPOSSIBLE TIMES novels, which are beautifully narrated by Matthew Frow. By the way, Kat would also like to point out that people who wear Red Hot Chili Peppers T-shirts do not also wear Lady Gaga T-shirts.