Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Island in the Sea of Time

Go To

The first book of the main trilogy of the Island in the Sea of Time (Series) by S. M. Stirling, in which the entire island of Nantucket is sent back in time to the late Bronze Age by a mysterious dome of light. "The Event" also brings along the Eagle, a Coast Guard training vessel—a mixed blessing for Nantucket, for while the ship and its crew prove invaluable in saving the island from starvation, one of the officers, William Walker gathers a band of followers and hijacks a ship for England, where he sets himself up as a warlord among the Indo-European tribes of the area. For obvious reasons, the people of Nantucket are not pleased with this, and the Town Meeting, under the leadership of former police chief Jared Cofflin and Marian Alston, captain of the Eagle, sends a force after him.

This first book, Island in the Sea of Time, covers the first couple of years, from the Event up to the Battle of the Downs, where Walker and his local allies meet the expeditionary force from Nantucket and their local allies.

This book is followed by Against the Tide of Years.

Island in the Sea of Time provides examples of:

  • Aerith and Bob: As Nantucket grows more racially integrated, with lots of Iraiina and Fiernan immigrants, as well as the odd Native American, names like "Llandaurth Witharaxsson" become increasingly common.
  • Age-Gap Romance: Marian Alston is a captain in the Coast Guard and she is in her late thirties. Her love interest Swindapa is around 19 when they meet. They eventually get married according to their own rules since neither of their countries allows gay marriage.
  • Ambiguously Bi: Sin-ina-mati really appreciates Kathryn Hollard's friendship...
  • A Million is a Statistic: Walker makes a remark along this line when discussing his conquest of Sicily.
  • Anti-Villain: Isketerol, merchant adventurer-turned-king of Tartessos. When the Nantucketers invade Tartessos in the third book, they were undoubtedly expecting to find a totalitarian hellhole like the society Walker has established in Greece; what they find instead is a society which is a perfect example of Fair for Its Day, as Isketerol has made literally revolutionary improvements in all areas of Tartessian society, not just the military, and has put huge outlays of time, effort and money into making life better for the ordinary people.
  • Artistic License – Linguistics: Sun People language. Although words themselves are mostly fine, what little grammar we see is more like English than Lithuanian (or PIE reconstructions.) "Diasas," for example, is used to mean both male and female slaves, even though it most probably would've been two distinct words (to match grammatical gender) in an early Indo-European language.
  • Bilingual Bonus: If you squint really, really hard, the names of Swindapa's tribe and her enemies look a little like "Fir Bolg" and "Aryan."
  • Book Ends: The first book in the series begins and ends with Ian Arnstein arriving on Nantucket and musing about its history, his personal life and seafood dinners.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Quite a few, but among the prominent ones, Doreen Rosenthal being an astronomer comes in very handy when convincing the elders of Swindapa's tribe, who are basically the caretakers of Stonehenge, that the Nantucketers are friendly.
  • Critical Staffing Shortage: The island of Nantucket suddenly finds itself short-staffed in every single aspect of infrastructure after the island is thrown back in time to the Bronze Age.
  • Daddy's Little Villain: Walker's daughter Althea, with aspirations to become a Claw of Hekate as well. She escapes the toppling of his regime and travels into Central Asia along with one of Walker's first Alban allies. Her only goal in life is revenge on those who killed her father, starting by creating a great empire as far from the sea as possible.
  • Egopolis: Walker's Alban base is called "Walkerburg." The capitol of his Greek territories is called "Walkeropolis."
  • Enemy Mine: Despite the antagonism between all sides, Nantucket, Walker's faction, and the Tartessians all exchange information and work together to contain a potential epidemic that could have wiped all of them out.
  • Exotic Extended Marriage: Most of the civilizations that the Nantucketers encounter practice polygamy.
  • Eyepatch of Power:William Walker, after the Battle of the Downs.
  • Fantasy Gun Control: A series of coincidences remove most modern firearms from use shortly after Nantucket arrives. The good guys suffer an armory fire and the bad guys find out that the guns that they stole on the way out of Nantucket have had their firing pins removed. This doesn't eliminate the idea of firearms but it does greatly reduce their impact.
  • Genre Savvy: Ian Arnstein is very prone to comparing the situation Nantucket finds itself in to science fiction and fantasy novels and using its tropes as guides to how to act.
  • Heroic BSoD: While not precisely a hero, Isketerol undergoes one of these when he realizes that in the future where Nantucket came from, experts aren't sure his nation even existed.
    • The king of Bablyon undergoes a milder one, assuaged by assurances that Nantucket's advances were only possible with thousands of years more time than the Babylonians had had to work with, and the foundation that Babylon itself helped to build. It's these assurances, diplomatically wielded, that establish Babylon as the first really powerful ancient civilization with which Nantucket is able to forge an alliance.
  • Heteronormative Crusader: In the first book, Marian Alston and Swindapa have to contend with a bitchy local woman who objects to homosexuality. Since Alston is the head of Nantucket's military, the woman's complaints are pretty much ignored by everyone else.
  • Historical Domain Character: A few - the king of Babylon, the Pharaoh, and maybe some of the Achaean and Trojan characters, depending on what you think of Homer's accuracy...
  • Hufflepuff House: The Shang Dynasty of China is the only major power that is completely uninvolved in the various wars of the trilogy. It's only mentioned in an easy to miss way as a world power that other characters are starting to trade with.
  • Human Sacrifice: The followers of the Jaguar God have this in mind for their captives.
  • I'm a Humanitarian:
    • Some of the Lisketter group meet their ends this way at the hands of the Mesoamericans, one almost immediately after capture since the Jaguar God followers apparently have a thing for freshly-drained blood.
    • At one point Alice Hong mentions that she enjoys the taste of "long pig" and "long veal steak" - the implication being that she has killed and eaten children.
  • Katanas Are Just Better: Marian Alston, and later Swindapa. Still later, these seem to become standard-issue for Nantucket officers. Some of the later books also suggest that even Walker has adopted them for officers and the elite generally.
  • Jewish and Nerdy: Played very straight with Doreen Rosenthal, but averted in the case of her post-Event husband Ian Arnstein — though she jokingly mention he's the only eligible prospect around.
  • Malcolm Xerox: Sam McAndrews. He betrays Nantucket in the hopes that Walker will let him prop up the nearest African civilization. This turns out to be Ancient Egypt, whose people are more closely related to the Arabs than anyone that might be called "black". McAndrews isn't exactly thrilled. He makes the best of it and by the end of the third book has contacted and began covertly helping the Nubians south of Egypt proper. Since there's no extant African civilization for him to help, he plans to help build one instead
  • May–December Romance: Marian Alston is about twice Swindapa's age when they first meet, and then there is Professor Ian Arnstein and grad student Doreen Rosenthal.
  • Mighty Whitey: Gleefuly and consciously inverted by Marian Alston at every opportunity. McAndrews tries to do this too, with far less success.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Students of history might want to keep an eye on any compatriots named William Walker when dealing with less technologically advanced groups of people.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Pamela Lisketter's group aren't heroes except in their own minds, but their attempt to prepare the Mesoamericans against Nantucket/European encroachment winds up infecting the Mesoamericans with mumps and wiping out their civilization.
  • No Bisexuals: Averted by the Earth Folk in general and Swindapa in particular. Plus Alice Hong.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: The first sign that Walker's going to be a bad guy is seeing his fondness of the word "wog" when we get inside his head.
  • Public Domain Character: Odysseus (spelled Odikweos in the books) and a few other characters from the same source.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Several. William Walker is his own top general, and Kashtiliash and Raupasha take a direct hand in fighting for their respective countries.
  • Slavery Is a Special Kind of Evil: The Republic of Nantucket takes a very dim view of slavery, as shown by the fact that almost all of its major warships are named after Civil War heroes or abolitionists. Given that one of its most prominent citizens is a former slave, this probably shouldn't be surprising. Naturally the Big Bad of the series, William Walker, heavily employs slavery in his empire. Though for Walker personally, it's more of a means to an end than because he specifically likes it. As he notes to Alice Hong in Against the Tide of Years;
    "Slavery's your thing, Alice. Me, I just want to get the work done the way I want it done, as cheap and fast as possible. If I could, I'd hire them - less trouble if they find their own rations and flophouses. Thing is, there's no proletariat here. [...] The only way to get big groups of people doing unfamiliar things under supervision in this setup is slavery - only way to get them working regularly to clock-time, too; they just purely hate that. Not that I have anything against slavery, but mainly it's a management tool."
  • Starting a New Life: Swindapa leaves Alba behind when it is taken over by the Iraiina, and heads to Nantucket, where she becomes Marian Alston's assistant (and later, her lover.) She's later able to return to her people, but she's changed quite a bit by that point.
  • Schizo Tech: Bronze axes, ultralights with napalm, katanas, breech-loading rifles, wooden frigates, bicycles, an airship... the list goes on. The absolute peak of this comes in the third book, with three person chariot teams (driver, loader, gunner) using breech loading rifles.
  • Shout-Out: Involving William Walker and Ian Arnstein in particular. Prior to the Siege of Troy they exchange some lines from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
  • Shown Their Work: Bronze Age archaeology has enough competing theories that it would be impossible to be accurate to all of them, but the series is nonetheless impressive in this regard.
  • Strawman Political: Pamela Lisketter and her group. Also Too Dumb to Live — it turns out the Followers of the Jaguar God were not interested in their help.
  • Swap Teleportation: The Event includes the entire island, a couple of small nearby islands, and a substantial volume of surrounding ocean. An aerial survey right after the Event finds that the past-ocean and transported-ocean are different colors, allowing them to figure that the Event swapped out an elliptical area roughly 23 miles long and 5 miles wide. They never know how high or how deep underground/underwater it went.
  • Theme Naming: Walker's horses are named Bastard and Son of a Bitch. Nantucket's ships are mostly named after abolitionists or related personages.
  • The Empire: One of the two likely end states for The Republic of Nantucket. By the end of the third book they have either allied with or decisively defeated every great empire of the age. In addition, both Argentina and South Africa have both been settled directly by Nantucketers - both of which are extremely fertile and rich lands. The small size of the island itself and extremely rich lands of eastern North America and continual population booms from significant immigration and no birth control means native americans will likely again be pushed off their land further and further west (or, at best, integrated directly into the blast furnace of Nantucket society). Depending on how far the Republic decides to push its anti-slavery attitudes, it may end up controlling as much or more land directly or indirectly as our timeline's British Empire.
  • The Federation: Most of the citizens of Nantucket have no interest in conquering the world and just want to live in peace. A significant amount of the island's population would probably have been fine living in almost complete isolation from the Bronze Age-era outside world had Walker not escaped to Alba and then Greece to create his own empire. The Republic's anti-slavery, pro-democracy views do give it a strong moral high ground, and its intentions are always shown to be either benevolent or at least straightforward.
  • The Republic: The Republic of Nantucket, of course. To outsiders it's unimaginably progressive and alien, with women given full rights, a mixed gender armed forces, assimilation for even complete strangers, and the executive and legislative branches chosen by direct (soon to be representative) democracy. The Republic is already a superpower thalassocracy by the second book.
  • Twofer Token Minority: Marian Alston is a Threefer Token Minority, although she might not take kindly to that description.
  • Unholy Matrimony: Walker and Hong, in a case where the evil whole is definitely worse (and more dangerous) than the sum of the evil parts.
  • Wooden Ships and Iron Men: Part of the Schizo Tech. Though technically the USCGC Eagle is an iron-hulled barque, Nantucket goes back to its roots and revives the time-honored shipbuilding arts as a response to its relocation.
  • Zerg Rush: The primary tactic of the Ringapi against O'Rourke's supply base.