Review: Paris Adrift by E.J. Swift at Strange Horizons

My latest Strange Horizons review looks at E.J. Swift's time travel novel Paris Adrift.  I've been hearing Swift's name spoken with admiration for several years now, as more and more readers I trust became absorbed by her Osiris Project trilogy (Osiris, 2012; Cataveiro, 2014; Tamaruq, 2015).  As a standalone, Paris Adrift seemed like a perfect opportunity to hop on, but unfortunately what I found was a classic case of what is good is not interesting, and what is interesting is not good.  Paris Adrift is a rather slight story of a lost young person becoming even more lost when she discovers the ability to travel in time--the sort of thing that would probably have worked very well as a novella but is stretched into shapelessness by the novel length--combined with a political story that doesn't really bear much scrutiny.
It's perhaps unsurprising that a novel so rooted in the notion of special people will also filter its politics through the lens of great men and women, whose life or death determine the course of history. I haven't said much about Hallie's adventures in time, but one of them in particular left a bad taste in my mouth. In it, Hallie travels to 1942, and finds herself sharing a crawlspace with a young Jewish woman, Rachel Clouatre, who has just barely evaded the roundup of French Jews by Vichy officials. It's obviously not Swift's fault that the subgenre of "time traveler helps to save a Jew from the Nazis" has been at the forefront of Holocaust fiction's devolution into Holocaust Kitsch, but one might have expected a little more awareness of this fact in 2018.
Paris Adrift clearly thinks of itself as a deeply political novel, but its ideas about politics are simplistic and in some cases genuinely dangerous--a charismatic political leader who urges non-specific niceness and is too good to stand for office is a particularly worrying plot point.  I'm sorry that my first encounter with Swift was so disappointing, and I may yet give her earlier books another shot, but if, like me, you were hoping to discover her with Paris Adrift, I wouldn't recommend it.


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