The Silver Wind is a difficult book to begin to review. The narrative presented here by Nina Allan isn’t the usual kind of story. The book doesn’t have a beginning, middle, and end, one flowing narrative that reaches a conclusion in the final chapters. Instead, The Silver Wind presents readers with a number of stories, each of which stands on its own, yet come together to create a larger narrative.
The book is primarily concerned with time, as the cover makes clear with its various cogs and gears. Each of the stories features watches and clocks in some way, and often the characters will refer to the devices as being ‘time machines’. On first glance you can take this phrase simply as being that watches are machines designed to measure time, but it soon becomes clear that it means more than this. You see, The Silver Wind is about time travel, and alternate timelines.
There are characters, places, and ideas that appear in all of the stories, although changed in some ways to fit the different places and periods the stories are set in. The book seems to be telling stories that are from alternate worlds, where characters are changed in some ways by the differences of these timelines, yet still remain somewhat similar. There’s Owen, who in each timeline is connected to watch making; Martin and Dora, who are lovers in most timelines, even when they are brother and sister, yet broken apart by tragedy.
Some of the timelines presented in the book are very familiar, and it takes a while to begin to spot the ways in which they differ from our own. There’s one that’s set during the 1920s, and I was so engrossed in this setting that I actually had to go back and double check the date the book said when nuclear power was mentioned. The first hints that there is indeed the manipulation of time, of technology from the future making its way back to the past and altering things, happens so suddenly it took me by surprise.
There’s one story that shows that it’s possible to not only manipulate these individual timelines, but move from one to the other. There’s a world where fascism and hate have overrun the country, where England is a grim land filled with armed troops and concentration camps, yet the Martin of that timeline is transported to a very similar world, but one where the people in power that brought about that hate lost their elections. This version of Martin even goes on to meet people that he knew in his own timeline, yet have no memory of him.
Time is presented as somewhat malleable in The Silver Wind, yet so many of the timelines follow similar paths, the people true to their character despite huge differences. It’s almost like Nina Allan is trying to present the idea that the true essence of a person, their passions and hopes, will be the same no matter where or when they are. It’s almost like she’s saying that even in worlds where things are awful and dark you will still be you, that it’s not the world that shapes you into who you are, but your essence instead.
In a lot of ways The Silver Wind reminded me of Cloud Atlas, one of my favourite books, but sometimes the stories here felt too separate from each other, and there was no connected narrative that really bound them all together. You can read the book as one novel, but it does often feel more like separate short stories that happen to share similarities. However you choose to read the book, there is a lot here to enjoy. Some of the stories are more engaging than others, and there are a few that I wish were longer as they ended too soon for me. An interesting collection of narratives that pose questions about the nature of time, and the human soul.
The Silver Wind by Nina Allan is out now from Titan Books.