The entire story consists of two self-contained but complementary novels, each of approximately 100,000 words. Part One is a single narrative with a central ‘flashback’ sequence lasting approximately half the novel.
The style of writing varies between the more fanciful adventures such as the picturesque Grand Express and Myridium Fair, and the abrupt tone of the pastiche Universal Rehousing, the events of which take place within a couple of hours. The parallel worlds described in the stories are linked by a series of consistent ‘rules’ to create an internal logic, based upon a combination of established fantasy and alternate history, with a smattering of new-age beliefs.
Lucy, a young witch, and her warlock brother Leith, live in an equivalent of the English Middle-Ages, though corresponding in time to our own world a few decades ago. They are the sole survivors of a purge led by a fanatic who, with the local villagers roused by fear to do his bidding, cause the death of their parents and pursue them far beyond their home shires. Having been weakened by injury and the desperate state of their plight, the children are caught in an unforeseen ambush, but though they manage to escape as Lucy calls blindly upon her untamed and barely-understood powers to hurl them from the known world, they are separated.
Caroline is a traveller, someone with the extremely rare ability to pass at will between the almost countless parallel alternatives of existence; she is also over a hundred years old, though appears to be in her mid-thirties, for her age is not due to physical longevity but a procedure whereby her consciousness and memories are transferred into a new body. She is very experienced in the use of her power, and having once tried to reject it is now as much at ease as she can be, yet she is also aware she still has much to learn. Caroline feels Lucy’s abrupt and terrified arrival through the ragged inter-world vortex, for based as they are on intense desires and the manipulation of strong forces, such things possess immense psychological as well as physical attributes which can affect not only the traveller themselves but also anyone in the immediate vicinity.
Desperately weak, Lucy approaches the outskirts of a modernised country village, and though recognising she is unimaginably far from home and all she has ever known, is still horrified at what she discovers. There is nothing to which she can relate, and even the earth-power with which she begins to slowly heal her wound is buried beneath a stone building she can not recognise, though it is evidently a shrine of some kind for the local inhabitants. As Lucy is discovered and taken to the vicarage, where she is tended by a kindly but puzzled doctor, Caroline is driving towards the village for she still remembers how disorientated and uncertain she was many years ago when her own ability became apparent; she wants only to help the frightened girl, but Lucy is increasingly fearful of her own safety and surroundings.
Caroline’s approach is eventually felt by Lucy, who is aware of her age as well as a sharing of the powers that govern passage between the worlds, but Caroline can only recognise Lucy as another traveller. Even when basic communication is established by the use of crude but effective dictionaries created from drawings, there is nothing to warn Caroline of what is to come until she is witness to a display of power that disturbs her greatly, and leaves her no choice but to take the injured girl away from the vicarage.
Both women are mentally and emotionally drained by their experiences, but as they drive through the sparse countryside Lucy becomes aware of another shrine buried beneath a high mound of earth. Reluctantly, Caroline stops her car and, as Lucy leaves her, decides to meditate to calm herself, but Lucy has yet another battle to face for the buried site is tainted by ancient rites of sacrifice which are in direct opposition to her own beliefs, and not until she has banished the malevolence can she see to her own well-being. Having accomplished this, she is more than aware of her own ignorance and decides the fastest way to educate herself is by entering Caroline’s mind; her primary goals are language, for better communication, and an understanding of the power they share, whose mis-use resulted in her being ejected from her own world without knowledge of where she was going or how to return.
Lucy’s mental intrusion is met with no resistance, which surprises her, for Caroline lacks knowledge of how to erect any form of barrier, so her personal life is open to scrutiny, but her rich experiences are far greater than Lucy anticipated and the girl is thrown into a whirlpool of thoughts and emotions that draw her back to the beginning of Caroline’s travelling, and the discovery of her skills.
This short chapter is a series of isolated incidents from Caroline’s past, related in reverse order as Lucy plunders the memories through which she falls in search of her goal.
Here is revealed a little of the process Caroline has made use of to extend her life, her meeting with people in other worlds, and tremendous uncertainty regarding her power. There are also signs of her first lover, Karl, and her close friends with whom she worked in a cabaret, sharing more than Lucy could possibly understand until she pierces the veils of memory and emerges to discover Caroline’s true history, though seen not through Caroline’s own eyes but that of an outsider, for that is what Lucy truly is.
Voyage Through The Island
Melissa is a bored and somewhat aimless young woman on holiday in the Lake District with her brother and mother, when much to her surprise yet delight one of the personal couriers who have delivered messages from her friend Catherine arrives to give her a letter. The courier vanishes in circumstances even more mysterious than her neurotic behaviour, but shortly afterwards Catherine herself visits the hotel as previously arranged with Melissa, who feels invigorated by her friend’s vitality and exuberance, as these are characteristics in stark contrast to those of the people with whom she is expected to socialise.
Catherine has been abroad for a couple of weeks and undergone subtle changes since last Melissa saw her; she is far more relaxed and self-assured, and though evidently happy at her improved circumstances is nevertheless deeply troubled by something. Melissa, who has never pried into her friend’s past, readily accepting Catherine as a lively personality who does not need to excuse or justify herself, is surprised when, in what seems like a confession, Catherine hesitantly reveals she has a certain skill whose existence is almost unheard-of. To help cushion the shock of its revelation, and to illustrate that whilst very unusual, her talent is not unique, she begins relating the story of a boy she once knew who, like herself, was able to pass at will between the multitude of parallel worlds.
At her own request, Melissa is given a short but potent demonstration that is little more than a step away from the world she has always thought of as stable and secure, but though she wants to learn more, Catherine thinks it best to leave the remainder of the story until the following morning, when she will complete her detailed biography.
Melissa is only too glad to leave the hotel after an argument with her mother regarding her erratic behaviour, and as she leaves with Catherine she is warned that the forthcoming tale, though appearing to complement the first, is just as important and brings events entirely up to date. Catherine’s second narrative describes the same boy as before, though this time concentrating not on his physical voyaging between worlds but rather his mental and emotional disturbances as he grew up, and began working in a club situated in the heart of London’s ruined docks.
Catherine’s revelations and the gradual travelling between worlds leaves Melissa bewildered, for though not feeling in any way betrayed she is nevertheless upset, and agrees to visit the cabaret in which Catherine used to work as it is a familiar environment in her own world. Driving towards the London they both know, even though from vastly different perspectives, she slowly inquires into further aspects of her friend’s experiences and discovers more of the feelings of confusion and horror which beset both Catherine and the boy as they grew up together.
Upon entering the derelict wharves, Catherine is stunned to hear from her remaining friends they will all be leaving soon, for the club must shut in a few months due to economic pressures. Her two closest friends, however, have already made plans for their future, and as they relate to her their finding of a diary belonging to a girl who killed herself just before Catherine left, Caroline begins to assert some control of what is being learned of her past by Lucy, and fights back against the intrusion.
Further incidents from Catherine’s and Caroline’s life are used to fill in some omissions in the previous story, moving forward in time as Lucy is ejected.
More details of Catherine’s relationship with Karl are made known; the future careers of her friends; and the people she met in other worlds, who taught her to control her skills and provided her with the beginnings of the philosophy that would later shape her life. There is also the utter rejection by Melissa of the story she was told, for she cannot come to terms with the travelling between worlds and leaves Catherine wracked by tremendous guilt and self-doubt as she seeks once again to deny her powers, but the ability is inherent in her very being and can not be ignored or repressed, for as she has already learned this can be very dangerous.
Lucy is finally hurled from Caroline’s mind but, as she realises to her regret, not only has she learned more than she ever needed or, as with Melissa, could ever accept, but also she has imparted to Caroline some of her own knowledge, for otherwise the other woman could not have ejected her. Unable to hide her revulsion for what Caroline has endured, Lucy is still awed by the skill she possesses and is totally unprepared for the offer to teach her how to travel properly between worlds, both to help search for her lost brother, and to educate her in the use of her power.