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The latest release from British author Iain Pears is a genre-defying stunner that seeks to define the very nature of storytelling. Pears is best known for his classic international bestseller AN INSTANCE OF THE FINGERPOST, as well as a series of mystery novels set in the world of fine art.

ARCADIA is a stand-alone novel and a lengthy tome at over 500 pages, but is well worth the effort. The result is a treat for those who love to read. There are three separate narratives woven between the pages that all intertwine with each other. One is set in a dystopian future, another in 1960 Oxford, and the third in a fantasy realm named Anterwold.

Readers will be able to decide for themselves which narrative they enjoy best and find the most important to the plot. My preference was the reality set in 1960s Oxford as it contains the most important and influential character, Professor Henry Lytten. Lytten was a contemporary of both J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis when at Cambridge, and ARCADIA opens with one of his stories being read at a local pub to a group of eager listeners.

"ARCADIA is a delight from start to finish as it honors the very subject of the written word and those who create them.... Thankfully, Iain Pears is in love with the written word and masterfully manipulates it for our reading pleasure."

The tale features a young man named Jay, who is being introduced to a fantasy world where the mightiest figures are not kings or warriors, but storytellers. Where else can a man play God than when he is creating an entire imaginary world whereby each inhabitant and all the ensuing action is completely controlled by said creator?

What bridges the world of 1960 Oxford and the fantasy world of Anterwold is a random event featuring a young neighbor of Lytten's named Rosie. While chasing Lytten's cat whom she takes care of, Rosie comes across a door in the Professor's basement. When curiosity gets the best of Rosie, she opens the door and finds herself in a strange land --- the very same fantasy world that Lytten has created in the pages of his stories.

It is here where Rosie comes upon the young man known as Jay, and she instantly recognizes him as a person on a quest. Jay initially mistakes Rosie for a fairy before they become better acquainted and eventually agree to help each other out in this new world.  Jay's actual identity and its importance to the plot will not be spoiled in this review, but I guarantee the truth will satisfy all readers.

This brings us to the third narrative set in the distant future. It is here that we are introduced to a startling and important invention that will traverse all of the other narratives --- time travel. A woman named Angela Meerson has mastered an invention that provides time travel, even though she would rather refer to it as making small adjustments in the totality of information that makes up the universe. She and her colleagues have utilized this control of probability to consider alternate versions of what we know as our own reality. Space, time and history folded on itself, each with a different outcome.

Meerson spends time with one of her favorite past figures, Henry Lytten, and it is here where things get tied together, in a way. Meerson's own contemporaries are desperate to find her as they fear she may change the past and alter their own present time as a result.  They send back into time a young man named Alex Chang, armed only with assumptions as to where or when Meerson has gone to. Chang's quest will bring together all three narratives, including the one set in the fantasy world created by Lytten, and readers will be glued to their seats to realize what is inevitably set in motion.

ARCADIA is a delight from start to finish as it honors the very subject of the written word and those who create them. Lytten, Rosie, Chang, Meerson and all of the myriad characters contained within these pages are worth spending time with. Also, a mysterious text known as "The Devil's Handwriting" will play an eerie and ominous role in the story. Thankfully, Iain Pears is in love with the written word and masterfully manipulates it for our reading pleasure.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on February 12, 2016

by Iain Pears