More exciting in theory than practice. 3/5 stars.
Thank you to Solaris for providing me with an e-copy of this book via NetGalley.
Determined to escape her old life, misfit and student geologist Hallie packs up her life in England and heads to Paris. As a bartender at the notorious Millie’s, located next to the Moulin Rouge, she meets Gabriela, who guides her through this strange nocturnal world, and begins to find a new family.
But Millie’s is not all that it seems: a bird warns Hallie to get her feathers in order, a mysterious woman shows up claiming to be a chronometrist, and Gabriela is inexplicably unable to leave Paris. Then Hallie discovers a time portal located in the keg room. Over the next nine months, irate customers will be the least of her concerns as she navigates time-faring through the city’s turbulent past and future, falling in love, and coming to terms with her own precarious sense of self.
Paris Adrift opens with a scenario familar to all sci-fi fans: a disastrous war in the future can only be prevented by travelling back in time to disrupt the events which will lead to humanity’s destruction. However, after an attention-grabbing opening chapter set a few hundred years hence, most of the story then takes place in the Clichy area of Paris in the early 21st century, with brief trips to other past time periods.
Ostensibly, the main character of the story is Hallie, surrounded by a diverse and international coterie of friends who find each other through working in the same bar. But ultimately all the human characters is the book felt a little flat to me, particularly when compared to the true standout: Paris. The city steals the show and the atmosphere and details of the metropolis are wonderfully evocative in every time period we visit. This book may let its human characters down by not bringing them fully to life, but it is entirely successful as a love letter to the city, its history and historic importance as a western capital.
There is also plenty of social commentary to be found here, sometimes delivered subtly, but othertimes a little too on the nose. That said, it does make a good (and relevant) point about how quickly extreme political forces can seize control of an apparently moderate society and twist it beyond recognition.
As the narrative includes time travel to different historical periods, I suppose it could be expected that the story can feel a little episodic and disjointed. In fact, this might be on purpose, to reflect Hallie’s disorientation as she gets used to travelling using the anomaly. However, the end result was that I did find some parts of the narrative more interesting than others, and my attention did sadly begin to drift during the last third of the book when I should have been gripped as events came to a conclusion.
Overall: an interesting premise, with important ideas and a fabulous choice of location brought vividly to life, let down for me by uneven pacing and characters who never get a chance to outshine the city setting.