Wraiths of time: An American grad student becomes an African princess

Wraiths of time by Andre Norton science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsWraiths of time by Andre Norton science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsWraiths of time by Andre Norton

Tallahassee (Tally) Mitford, a graduate student who studies archaeology and African history, has been asked to examine some Egyptian artifacts that appear to be very old, important, powerful, and radioactive.

When one of the relics pulls her into a parallel universe, Tally finds herself in Meroë, an ancient Nubian kingdom located on the Nile River. She is completely helpless there with no status and the inability to speak the language. She has no idea how to get back home.

When she’s rescued by some women who are the companions of the recently deceased princess Ashake, she is asked to impersonate the princess and help Queen Candace fend off the attacks of a powerful man who hopes to subjugate these women who just want to rule themselves.

Andre Norton’s Nubian civilization and young black female protagonist are unusual for a fantasy novel published in 1975. Before she’s drawn into the parallel universe, Tally has to deal with the hostility and prejudice that black women (still) experience in academia. After she arrives in Africa, she continues to deal with sexism. For inspiration, Tally thinks of the strong black women in African history that she studies and admires.Wraiths of time by Andre Norton science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviews

(Those of us searching for something to cringe at will be annoyed that Norton keeps referring to this educated young woman as a “girl,” and of course it would have been nice if black women had been able to also star in stories that didn’t take place in Africa, but let’s give some credit to Norton for featuring a black female protagonist in 1975! Oh, and demerits to whoever is responsible for the whitewashing of the two book covers shown here.)

When reading Andre Norton’s novels, I often find that I’m interested in her characters, the worlds she creates, and the personal, political, and other conflicts that her characters have to navigate. This is what she does best.

But usually at some point in the story the focus shifts to mysterious and often confusing fantasy elements that hijack the story and take it in a completely different and baffling direction.

These fantasy elements (e.g., telepathy, telekinesis, objects of power, parallel universes, wraiths, shadows, and the like) typically feel too abstract, too unmoored from the laws of nature, and not really well integrated with, or essential to, the story. It feels like there are no rules and no limits.

Android at Arms by Andre Norton science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThat’s when I tend to lose interest and start to yearn for some sort of “system” where at least there are some rules to keep the plot from running amok. Wraiths of Time is better in this regard than many of her other stories, but it, unfortunately, suffers the same fate.

I listened to the audio version of Wraiths of Time which is paired with Android at Arms (1971) in the omnibus called Gods and Androids which was originally published in print by Baen in 2004. Tantor Audio has recently released this omnibus in audio format. Stephen Jay Cohen isn’t my favorite narrator, but he does a fine job with these stories. I would recommend increasing the playback speed, though, since he tends to speak too slowly.

Originally published in 1975; Audio version published in March 2021. An archaeology student is transported back to an ancient Ethiopian kingdom where, reborn as a warrior priestess, she must save their civilization from an evil as old as time. Archaeology student and expert in African history Tallahassee Mitford has been asked to authenticate some ancient artifacts. But there’s a strange energy emanating from the relics, which, according to legend, can hold the soul of an entire nation. As she examines an ankh, talisman of the Egyptian gods and the key to all life, Tallahassee hears a deafening clap of thunder, followed by total darkness. She awakens to find herself lying under a scorching desert sun, surrounded by ruins and pyramids. She has been kidnapped by the powerful spirits released from the ankh and hurled back in time to a Nubian kingdom in Meroe, a little-known nation that exists in the shadow of Egypt. Reborn as Ashake, a magnificent warrior princess, Tallahassee must help Candace Naldamak, ancient Queen of Meroe, defeat the evil Khasti, who has found a way to pierce the walls between timelines. Ensnared in a power struggle for the throne, guided only by her knowledge of African history and her own free will, Tallahassee will endure a life-threatening trial by fire before she learns the true reason she has been summoned here.

 


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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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2 comments

  1. This will be added to my “to be read list.” =)

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