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Literature / The Book of All Hours

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The beginning book, an explosion of timey-wimey.
The ending book, stitching back together all the timey-wimey.

"Once, in the depths of prehistory, they were human. But in a moment of brutal transfiguration, they became Unkin - beings who possess the power to alter reality by accessing the Vellum: the realm of eternity underneath the skin of the world, underneath every reality, containing every possibility, every paradox, every heaven and hell. The Vellum became a battleground where forces of order and chaos fought across time and space. The ultimate weapon in that bloody war spanning history and myth, dreams and memory, was The Book of All Hours, a legendary tome within which the blueprint for all of reality is inscribed - a volume long lost amid the infinite folds of the Vellum.

Until, in 2017, it was found by Reynard Carter, a young man with the blood of unkin in his veins.
Until Phreedom Messenger and her brother, Thomas, were swept up in an archtypical dance of death and rebirth.
Until a hermit named Seamus Finnan found the courage to reforge his broken soul, and a self-proclaimed angel called Metatron unleashed a plague of artificially intelligent bitmites.

Reality will never be the same."

The universe is not what it seems. Time does not follow a strict and orderly progression. Imagine reality as a great, infinite sheet of vellum, upon which anything can and has been written. And then crumple that sheet up, mangle it as best you can without tearing it apart. Every crack is a world, every fold a pocket universe in which anything can happen. Even people are just little marks on the vellum, symbols or stories that move about and tell themselves over and over again.

And then imagine some of those marks - those symbols and stories - uprooting themselves from their place on the vellum and crossing to another. These are the unkin, people who have awakened to the true reality hiding beneath the surface and in so doing have indelibly marked the Vellum with their presence. When they move, they bring their stories with them and transplant them into other worlds. Every unkin leaves their mark.

And now, finally, imagine a great book within which the entirety of the Vellum has been recorded. Everything written, described, put in its place in the language of magic and reality. Imagine the conflicts over this book. Not the book itself, but what the book means. That everything can be recorded, and even must be recorded. Everything in its place. And who manages the Book manages reality.

The Book of All Hours is a series of speculative fiction books by Hal Duncan, composed of two books so far, Vellum and Ink. They follow the struggle of a group of unkin rebels across the crumpled, bent, warped substance of the true reality, where time and space are only as meaningful as one wants them to be. The Powers That Be have decided that everyone must take a side in the fight over the Book, and they are willing to let reality itself become a casualty over what they want reality to mean.

This series provides examples of:

  • Anachronic Order: Made of this trope. A good idea for a project would be to cut up both books and try to fit the pages into chronological order. Have fun.
  • Bury Your Gays: Puck (Thomas Messenger) is murdered early on in the first book, leaving behind his lover Jack... and dies again and again across the multiverse. Puck's treatment is a harsh criticism of this trope from Duncan (as well as upon real-world anti-gay violence, specifically the murder of Matthew Shepard), who is very outspoken about gay rights. Ultimately, the entire duology is about the love these two men have for each other and the struggle to find the one fold of the Vellum where Thomas lives. And if nobody could find it, they would make it.
  • Deus Sex Machina: Especially in the second book, Ink. For some of the folds of reality in the Vellum, tantric sex apparently makes it easier to travel between the various alternate realities, and in these folds there also exists several kinds of technology fueled by using "orgone energy" as a power source (a real life concept, though it doesn't exist).
  • The End of the World as We Know It: Metatron seriously miscalculated – mixing AI nanotechnology with the Cant, which combines with all the gravings of long-dead Unkin in the wake of Phreedom's quick trip to the tattoo parlor, and using it to try and torture who is essentially Prometheus? Here comes Evenfall, and the Hinter.
  • Fictional Document: The Book of All Hours itself came into existence in many different ways within all the folds of reality that exist in the Vellum.
  • God Guise: The Unkin.
  • Language of Magic: The Cant itself. The metaphysical language so precise, so intricate, that "it can catch an atom in the interference patterns of a sound, snatch the energy thrown off as waste, and use it as a weapon". Snatching the heat out of the world to reshape reality and the Vellum. At one point in the far distant futurepast, the war between the rival Unkin factions used the Cant so much that the world was in the midst of a deep ice age. An excellent example where words truly can cause physical effects.
  • Mind Screw: HOO BOY DOES IT EVER. Where to begin... a multi-layered universe functioning on dimensional variables with recurring archetypes across millennia acting as the main characters, one of the main characters killing his younger self (at the point when said younger self was supposed to kill the older self) because he was crying (Stable Time Loop seems to apply), and the absolute deconstruction of all levels of reality to a point where even the guy who walked across eternity can't piece it back together. Awesomeness and pan-cultural symbolism aside, you kinda have to read it twice. Because Anachronic Order Mind Screw. Or more than twice... Have fun.
  • Multiple-Choice Past: At one point, Seamus tells one story about how the Unkin began as mortals who, upon discovering that they lived in a godless world, decided to turn themselves into gods. He then immediately tells another story about how the Unkin were gods who stepped out of the realm of imagination into reality, but in doing so became partly mortal. Which story is true? Both.
  • Our Monsters Are Different: The Unkin. They have been our angels, our demons, our Gods in the mythologies the world over. Due to the fact that they are/were, in origin, humans that touched the Vellum through a moment of artistic/emotional/intellectual epiphany, why do you think all those characters in the deepest stories of mankind acted so... human? And it's not so much ascending as it is descending and touching the Vellum underneath reality. Also the point of why there is the war between the Covenant and the Sovereigns - people fighting over power, politics, greed, ambition, and in some cases horrified that there is no judeo-christian God: if there's no God, then we'll build our own idea of Heaven, a tiny outpost in the vast harsh wilderness that is the eternity of the Vellum.
  • Reality Warper: Every Unkin has a subtle but profound form of this. They can't just, say, will a tree or person into being - but by their nature they leave indelible marks on reality that may retroactively change the world. At one point, an incarnation of Jack is killed and reality shakes in response to his death, and suddenly the world is full of "jacks" - there's a new/old face card in playing cards, the stories are suddenly about Jack the Giant-Killer, and numerous other common idioms and metaphors across the world are changed to involve a Jack somehow.
  • Relationship Upgrade: In a peculiar variation, Jack Flash/Carter and Puck/Thomas Messenger really do finally get to be together (without either one being brutally murdered by the other) ... sorta. Considering how by the end of Ink, reality in the Vellum has been re-written so many times that not even Reynard/Guy/Fox could put the thing back together, the fact that they're present in any shape or form is impressive to say the least (particularly after what happened to Seamus). In any case, they get things their way eventually, in whatever variant of reality that still includes them.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Depending on which reality variant or which character iteration you're looking at, practically ALL the main characters are this at different points. Particularly Seamus/Prometheus (who is this in EVERY reality (unfortunately it's a core staple of his archetype) and Jack Carter (in the iterations where he plays The Captain). Phreedom would have been this except she chose the Screw Destiny route and went AWOL.
  • Significant Green-Eyed Redhead: Phreedom Messenger, the only female of The Seven.
  • Timey-Wimey Ball: Doesn't even try to claim to be otherwise. It's such a mishmash of pocket universes, alternate universes, and paradox that causality can't even be seen with a telescope on a good day. Essentially - think of the universe as a huge piece of vellum on which reality has been written. Then crumple it up. Most characters make such a habit of going not just back and forth in time but also sideways, up, and down into the buried fossilized remains of previous overwritten realities as well.
  • Universal-Adaptor Cast: Does this extensively. This is an interesting case, because each character is the living embodiment of an archetype superimposed upon the multiple realities. By the second book, where reality has degenerated into isolated wells of time and space in the Vellum, and the characters move from one reality well to another, they have absolutely no qualms about screwing all possible realities to their advantage. This results in them routinely sitting around a table and leafing through the "script" for the next reality, deciding who is going to play what.

Alternative Title(s): Vellum, Ink