In a future where time travel has been outlawed, a black market exists for anyone with the money, connections, and nerve to request items from days past. As a Runner for one of the underground syndicates that now controls the timewaves, Stassi 2446-89 has seen it all: the fall of Rome, the rise of Hitler, the end of democracy, the establishment of time tourism, and the devastating consequences of it. Her job is to seamlessly slip through the past, in search of items of value to the syndicate’s clientele. Stassi’s next assignment takes her to Paris in the 1920’s, in search of a lost manuscript by one of the twentieth century’s greatest writers. She and her partner, Gaige, are swept up in the City of Light during the height of fashion and culture—as alluring a locale as they’ve ever visited. But a seedier side of life lurks beneath the glamorous façade, and the pair quickly learns this run is more dangerous than any of their previous missions. Because history isn’t playing out as it should be—a first for the syndicate. When the stakes are raised and it becomes a matter of life or death, Stassi and Gaige must ultimately decide how far they’re willing to go to ensure the future as they know it.
The Syndicate is such a difficult book to rate. There are aspects of it I think are absolutely brilliant, but I also walked away feeling confused and a little disappointed.
First, the good things. I absolutely love the premise and found it extremely plausible. Based on what I know of history and human nature, it makes total sense that if time travel were possible, it would soon become outlawed. There’s always that one group who can’t follow the rules and ruins everything for the rest of us. The Syndicate system was as widespread and intricate as you’d expect from what is essentially a Mob. The integration of historic figures was very well done, and was something I appreciated as a former student of history. I also really enjoyed the characters and easily connected to them. While it’s not at all the main focus, there’s a cute romantic development that really snagged me.
Now on to the things that didn’t really work for me. The pacing was incredibly slow, especially the first quarter of the book, and although big books don’t scare me, I think this one could have been much, much shorter and still told the story thoroughly. While I appreciated the author’s attention to detail, too much of it was focused on training sessions, meals, hair and makeup, getting dressed, etc. A little of that would have been perfect to set the scene, but I quickly got bogged down and had to take a break from the book. Additionally, Stassi’s and Gaige’s mood (as well as that of the narrative) tended to shift from silly and carefree one minute to dead serious the next, which was a little disorienting. I also found myself longing for the characters from the 25th century to be speaking a little differently–I know they’re time travelers so they probably use old slang a lot, but it was a little difficult to believe they’d still be using expressions and cliches from our time.
The main source of my confusion at the end were details I think really should have been addressed in the first book of the series. They mention that prima materia is the substance that allows time travel to exist, which is fine. But since this is an alchemical term and some of the Syndicate’s employees are called alchemists, I was really hoping they would further explain what exactly was going on with that. I was especially interested to find out why being an alchemists is a family thing. Hopefully this is something that will be explained in subsequent books in the series.
Even though there was a lot that didn’t work for me, The Syndicate did keep me interested throughout and I am definitely interested in finding out what happens to Stassi, Gaige, Molly, and the rest. I’ll be reading the second book when it comes out. I just hope it’s a little bit easier to get through!
I received a complimentary copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.