Navigator by Stephen Baxter

Time’s Tapestry Book 3.

Navigator is set between the years 1066 and 1492, with some scenes in England and the Jerusalem of the Crusader Outremer but the action occurs mostly in al-Andalus, the region of Spain then still ruled by the Moors. This book spans the gradual and piecemeal destruction of Islamic Western Europe. (Baxter notes the harshness and crudities of its replacement.) This necessarily highlights the contest between the Christian West and Islam which at the book’s start has been going on for 500 years, to its inhabitants seems unending, and is of obvious relevance today. Baxter carefully reminds us that it was the Muslim Arabs who preserved (and extended) the knowledge of Greece and Rome and manages to throw in a list of English words – still in use today – that are derived from Arabic.

The disruptions of history involved in this volume of Baxter’s “Time’s Tapestry” series are various. One is an interpolation from a future where the Muslim army was not defeated by the Franks at Poitiers and they went on to rule all Europe. Another is the development of war machines known as the Engines of God and a new agent of destruction which a parchment calls Incendium Dei, and turns out to be gunpowder. The main thrust of the prophecies in which the two families the story follows are entwined is the contest between looking west and Columbus’s voyages to the Americas or to turn east to combat the remaining forces of Islam.

The three main sections of the book – set in the years 1085, 1242-1248 and 1472-1491 respectively – have stories which, though they are connected loosely, do not really overlap which can make the reading a disjointed experience as it is not always the case that they occur at natural times to lay the book down.

The attractions of tales such as these lie in seeing what changes, if any, to our history are unfolded and what historical people pop up perhaps unexpectedly. (Roger Bacon in this instance.) A lot of history – arguably mostly all but forgotten in the West, except in Spain – is run through here, relatively painlessly, though occasionally the necessity for characters to talk about events holds back the action. The nature of the Weaver of Time, or his/her (I feel almost sure it will turn out to be his) possible adversary, the Witness, has still not been revealed. But there is always Volume 4; which, given the 500 year or so time span each volume of Time’s Tapestry encompasses, will take us up to the present, or nearly.

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