Tempus Abbey

Tempus Abbey was written by Sammy Woodford and first published in 2016. It is a fantasy story that focuses on two teenagers who find themselves caught in the middle of a conflict between technology and religion. The book forms the first part of the Fray and Ira series, but at the time of writing no future instalments have been announced.

Ira knows something is wrong when his father starts to lose his usually perfect timekeeping ability. He soon learns that there has been an accident at his place of work and it has badly affected his father’s memory. This is quick to catch the attention of both the faeries and important people within their home town of Kinda’s Leap. Everyone seems to either want to make his father disappear or use him to prove that the infamous machinist Akkeri is up to no go good. Ira knows that he and his father need to flee the town, but where could they possibly go?

Although the two make their escape, they soon run into trouble as they try to cross the harsh wilderness that surrounds Kinda’s Leap. They are discovered by Fray, the young ward of the abbot of Tempus Abbey, who takes them back to her home for urgent medical attention. However, their arrival sparks a lot of trouble. Although the Abbot offers them sanctuary, Akkeri’s men are not popular in the territory of the Confraternity and there are many who believe that they are spies.

However, Fray quickly learns that Ira’s father hides a secret. She discovers that he carries with him a strange key and, following a chance encounter with a talking rabbit called Albert, she learns that it may have belonged to a former sister at the Abbey. But why would an object belonging to a member of the Confraternity be in the hands of a senile Akkeri man? Fray and Ira set out to discover the reason, but it will be more dangerous than the two could ever imagine…

This is a very difficult review for me to write. As you’re probably aware, I don’t like writing overwhelmingly negative reviews of independently published novels. However, I really have struggled to get through this one. It’s the first book I’ve reviewed in a long time that I had difficulty getting to the end of and this is mostly due to the story’s structure and pacing.

At first, this novel did show some promise. Its setting brought to mind a cross between Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials and Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast, which did make me curious to learn more about the Abbey and its inhabitants. However, the novel just wasn’t capable of sustaining my interest. The book is very long for a debut young adult novel, and is incredibly slow burning. This is primarily due to the sheer amount of repetition and its habit of telling the reader things, rather than showing them.

Both of these problems are primarily found in the dialogue between characters. Most of the action in the story occurs off-page, and so characters are constantly having to relate what the reader has not seen to each other. Take, for example, Ira’s escape from Kinda’s Leap. We see Ira discovering the passage out of his house but then he is not seen again until Fray discovers him on the edge of Tempus Abbey. Ira later describes his fear and the pursuit of Akkeri’s men but the reader missed out on seeing any of this. The novel could have easily resolved these issues (and probably trimmed out a good 100 pages of filler), had its writing been a little more active.

The world-building of Tempus Abbey also suffered due to the surprising lack of descriptive text. While Woodford offered vague descriptions (we know, for example, that the Abbey is built on a cliff), he shies away from descriptions of the many characters or his unique world concepts. We know that low faeries are “made” but we don’t know how. We know that little boys in the Abbey are given a “rangling”, but we don’t find out what this means until the 97% mark of the Kindle version. We don’t even learn the ages or appearances of people, beyond an occasional comment about hair colour. This did not help to make the novel feel very memorable.

In terms of plot, I also found myself becoming very confused. I won’t go into my problems too much here for fear of spoiling it for you, but I felt that the story really struggled to keep its focus. After Ira’s first person introductory chapters, the third person narrative flitted between a few different protagonists – primarily Ira, Fray, Albert and Dorian (the abbot) – but didn’t really come together until its final act. Despite the book’s length, most of the plot threads are left hanging. This includes just what happened to Ira’s father prior to the start of the story.

I also never really felt the threat of Akkeri. The man himself never appears in the story and the actual nature of his enterprise is never seen beyond the fact that we are told that they make zeppelins. Yet, I didn’t really understand the Confraternity either. Despite the fact that most of the novel is set in an abbey, we don’t actually see any religious ceremonies. We know that they worship a single deity (which seems to have faerie servants, rather than angels), and that there is some rivalry between the human bishops of the various Confraternity territories, but beyond this we don’t see a lot else.

The books strongest aspect was probably its protagonists. Both Fray and Ira did at least feel like realistic teenagers. They were complex characters that both showed a variety of emotion. My only really issue with them was the fact that they constantly seemed to be separated. The series is called Fray and Ira but the two of them did not spend many chapters together. This was especially problematic over the climax, over which Ira was frustratingly absent.

The story also boasts a very large supporting cast but, other than Albert, none of them are terribly memorable. There are many people working at Tempus Abbey but I found that they all seemed to blur into one after a while. They did not have very distinct personalities and I could not even remember what roles they played as they just weren’t fleshed out at all. I didn’t even really understand why it was that Fray had been taken in by Dorian. It is quickly established that her family (including her sister) run a smithy in the village and that she still has regular contact with them.

Anyhow, I was optimistic about Tempus Abbey from its blurb but I quickly found that it just wasn’t the novel for me. The book had some nice ideas but it  failed to develop them, just coming across as being slow and unmemorable on the whole. If you are curious, the eBook is currently free on Amazon, however this is not a novel that I would recommend.

Tempus Abbey can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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