Next up on the hit parade is Paths Not Taken. Set immediately after the previous book, John Taylor is on his way to his office to figure out how to start facing his mother. He needs allies and he needs information. So he heads to his office for the very first time. To his surprise, he finds it in a fairly well off business area of the Nightside, protected by his secretary Cathie and very powerful magicks.
His current plan is to go to the Time Tower and ask Old Father Time (a character from the book Shadows Fall) and forewarned is forearmed. So he’s sitting and waiting for his ultra high tech computers to give him anything to work with, a client falls in his lap. Almost literally. Eamonn Mitchell is an average worker bee from real London who got shunted to the Nightside and is now being accosted by previous versions of himself. And what do you know, he just happens to John’s business card in his hand, saying he could help. Too bad John doesn’t have business cards.
After two previous Eamonn’s wreak havoc in his office, he heads to Strangefellows on the basis that both he and his new client need very large drinks. That and Merlin’s magic will likely protect them from any serious harm. How wrong his is. Two older versions of Eamonn show up, equipped with probability wands like the previous two. After handling them, John and Eamonn hook up with Tommy Oblivion, the existential detective (he specializes in cases that may or may not have actually happened).
Figuring that the best place to get answers is the Nightside branch of the client’s company, they wander off into the night and eventually make it to the Widow’s Mite Insurance company. Turns out the company, with some prompting from Walker, used Eamonn as bait for Count Video (no longer skinless). A brief battle later and things work out for poor Eamonn, and for John and Tommy who get generous checks from the Widow’s Mite.
John talks Tommy into time traveling with him and they head for the Time Tower. They’re waylaid by some seriously scary Walkerness called the Shadow Men. They are just shadows who can carry you off to wherever Walker is. Apparently it is very much less than pleasant. Tommy uses his gift of existentialism to get them to Time Tower Square and away from the Shadow Men and they are met by Suzie Shooter.
Turns out, Old Father Time was expecting all three of them, which can be either good or bad depending on how you look at it. So they ask him to send them back to the beginning of the Nightside so they can figure out how to beat Lilith. Only Lilith has other ideas and stops their trek some hundreds of years before present time, just after King Arthur’s death (yeah, he’s totally real). They don’t know why they were stopped here but they go exploring and eventually figure that they need Merlin’s help to get them further back in time.
They go to Strangefellows (eventually) which was then called Avalon and run by former cup bearer to the gods Hebe. They don’t succeed in sweet talk or logic so they get Merlin drunk off his ass. And then they steal his heart right out of his chest. At this point Tommy grows a conscience (because young witch Nimue died trying to save Merlin’s life) and tries to change what they’re doing. He wants to bring Merlin back, bring back the age of Arthur. John and Suzie kick the crap out of him and send him back to the Nightside (we see where he ends up in an earlier book. Ah, time travel).
John figures out how to trigger the magic in Merlin’s heart and they end up several hundred years further back in Roman times. Still, it isn’t far enough back. So they go in search of a god or a power to send them back again. Only they run afoul of people more desperate than even they are and they are turned over to Herne the Hunter and his wild hunt. To win their freedom, John must run the gauntlet and make it from the wild woods to the city limits. But Herne underestimates John’s sheer deviousness and though he is mortally wounded, he makes the city.
Once there, Herne tries to give further chase, feeling cheated from his prey. He tries to follow and the Lord of Thorns strips him of his power, binding him to wander the Nightside doing penance. He then heals John of his wounds and sends them the rest of the way back.
John and Suzie end up a long time before humans are even a thought on the horizon. They watch Lilith create the Nightside with a single word. And then, with the help of two angels (one from above and one from below), they go face down Lilith in her newly created paradise. It almost goes horribly wrong but then John pulls a trick. Lilith tried to kill him by sucking out his life force through their bond as mother and son. So he reverses it and weakens her to the point where she can be banished later on like they know happens. And then they go home. What happens next? That’s answered in Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth, which is what I’ll be reading next.
This book was great. There’s great drama and just the right amount of humor. Rating: A.