The Tea Machine

The Tea Machine - Gill McKnight This book has one of the most bizarre blurbs ever. London circa 1862 + space battle + Roman centurions + squid?!?!? How does all that come together in a book? Via time travel, of course. :)

Millicent, a prim and proper but rather unconventional young lady, would rather carry on intellectual discourses with her scientist brother Hubert and other solitary pursuits, than join the London social set of her day. Hubert, on the other hand is a tinkerer, inventor and all-around eccentric, who just happens to cobble together from old furniture and bits and pieces pilfered from Millicent's most treasured things, a contraption thats capable of sending someone to another time (and apparently to random places as well). And of course, Millicent just has to 'accidentally' activate said machine, setting up an incredible chain of events with reverberations thousands of years into the future, the past as well as the present.

Now before readers get turned off, the book is not a nerdy sci-fi yarn. Yes, it opens with a desperate space battle, has some icky Roman gladiator fights, and there's some bewildering time travel in between. its heart, its a comedy... of sorts. Think campy, Victorian era, lesbian 'Back to the Future'... then cross it with 'Xena Warrior Princess'! :) Actually, it straddles a lot of sub-genres: steampunk, sci-fi, historical, thriller, mystery, character study, you name it. And there's even a romance there somewhere, or two, although you never know when it actually happens... lol Was it in the past? future? Maybe in the next book? There's a tasty teaser at the end of the book.

The basic premise of Tea Machine is this (well, aside from the time travelling bit) : What if the mighty ancient Roman Empire never fell, but continued its domination of the world thousands of years into the future. What kind of civilization would we have today? Probably the same as if the Nazis had won. ;) Anyway, the author takes us to three different times in this alternate reality (past, present, future). The mystery there is, what or who caused this to happen? And how do they fix it? And even worse, if they do manage to fix it, will our main characters lose each other forever, since they've only ever met in this f-ed up reality?

Now one would think such a dire, gloomy world of death and destruction would result in a terribly depressing book, but except for a few chapters, I found myself laughing out loud through most of it. The author had a lot of fun playing up various character stereotypes. Great writing plus the overall campy tone the author chose made the book a very entertaining read.

My review won't be complete if I don't poke holes at the plot. And this one will probably leak like a sieve if you think too hard. The book doesn't take itself too seriously, so I didn't either. But here's a few big ones I couldn't help noticing: Why does the machine send people to random places not only on earth, but also in space? So it's also a teleporter but this fact is kinda glossed over in the book. Also, what's with this fascination with steam power? This isn't a reflection on the author but on the unusual popularity of this genre in general and the over-reliance of the book on it. Of all the technologies that could have been inadvertently introduced by someone going back to the past, steam power would be one of the clunkiest and most inefficient. And for flighty, know-nothing Sophie to be the one to initiate it seemed too much of a stretch. The Sophie who can't tell a man from a woman, Latvia from Rome? Granted it was Heron who made everything work, but bionic animals in only a few hundred years?? Advanced deep space travel (e.g. faster-than-light travel) and conquest in our lifetime? Not without something better than steam power :) Also, Cat's Paw Nebula may look like a lovely baby squid nursery, but it actually births stars rather than squid. :) That was entirely too much thinking--which will just spoil the fun, so I'll stop here. :) Despite my nitpicks, the overall plot (including all the time travelling and its ramifications) is well thought out and logical. I'm hoping things will be cleared up some more in the next book. Which hopefully comes soon, because I can't wait!

ARC received from Netgalley