The Immortals by S. E. Lister

imageRosa came home after seven years, in the same year she had left. It was the beginning of the wet spring she knew so well. She found their cottage on the edge of a village, the latest Hyde home in a string of many, tucked out of the way behind a disused cattle barn. There were sandbags stacked against the steps, blackout curtains in every window.

Rosa’s parents are time travellers, who live only in the year 1945. Every year, on New Year’s Eve, they travel back a year and move somewhere new, and Rosa grows up reliving the horror of Hiroshima and the celerations of VE day over and over. Eventually she rebels from her restrictive upbringing, and starts to travel herself, unable to control her time but following the ‘tides’ wherever they take her. At first, her existence seems charmed, as she styles herself ‘The Fabulist’ and amazes those in the past with stories of the future. But this carefree existence can’t last forever, and Rosa has to learn that the effects of time travelling will take their toll.

When I started reading The Immortals, I was expecting a fun time travel adventure story. What I got was something much darker, and much richer. As Rosa first leaves home and starts to travel, she is every teenage girl who has ever rebelled against her parents, thinking she knows best and concentrating on having a wonderful time (albeit with a rather more drastic and irrevocable separation). But, gradually, she comes to understand and sympathise with why her parents the live the way they do, and become reconciled with them.

Despite the title, this is also a book about mortality, and about facing death when it comes. For example, one of Rosa’s erstwhile companions, Tommy, is fascinated by the idea of going to Hiroshima, a sort of time-traveller’s thrill-seeker destination, since they never know when the tides are going to take them to 1945 and total destruction. Another is Harding, an eternal soldier who has fought a war in every time, and come through all unscathed. All of these characters must face death eventually, but what does death mean when a younger you is still alive in a future time?

I loved reading about Rosa’s journeys, from the decadent times she spends with fellow time-travellers, to the utter isolation she feels when they start to go wrong. I also enjoyed her encounters with ‘The Historians’, a society of people who devote themselves to studying the time travellers, and whose name for them turns out to be the ultimate irony. Most of all I liked the way I thought I knew where the book was going to go next and it ended up surprising me at every turn. What results is a really original use of the time travel plot in a story that stays with you for a long time.

The Immortals is published today and is available from Amazon.

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