the Little Red Reviewer

The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers

Posted on: September 26, 2012

The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers

published in 1983

where I got it: that one bookshelf where my favorite books are.










The short version of this review is that The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers is utterly brilliant and amazing.   Aren’t sure if time travel books are your thing? Doesn’t matter, this book transcends. Aren’t sure if Tim Powers is for you? He transcends all as well, and you can learn more about him in my Why You Should be Reading Tim Powers article.

here’s the long version:

Brendan Doyle lives a remarkably boring life. An expert in the lives of the romantic poets, Doyle tracks down obscure manuscripts and gets papers published in even more obscure literary magazines.  When he flies to London to meet with wealthy yet eccentric J. Cochran Darrow, Doyle’s in it for the money. this crazy old guy wants to pay Doyle a million dollars to give an hour lecture about Samuel Taylor Coleridge to a dinner party? No problem.  that money will go a long way towards Doyle’s research of an obscure poet who was in London around the same time as Coleridge, William Ashbless.

Except it’s not just any dinner party, and this isn’t just any old rich guy. J. Cochran Darrow has discovered how to jump through time. Brendan will give his lecture, answer a few questions, and then entire group, Darrow, Brendan, and the guests, will travel through time to 1810 see Coleridge himself. Everything must be timing perfectly, as these breaks in the river of time are sometimes only open for a few hours.

The only predictable scene happens when the time travel jump is successful, everything is going swimmingly, and suddenly Doyle gets separated from the group and is left behind in 1810.  Abandoned, yet hopeful, Doyle has a plan. He knows the exact time and date that Ashbless wrote a famous poem at a tavern in London. If Doyle can survive for a week, he can approach Ashbless and hopefully work with the man. Should Doyle ever get back to modern day London, he’d be able to write the ultimate Ashbless biography.

But Darrow isn’t the only person jumping through time. A few someone elses, many hundreds of years ago, used arcane magic to open these gates in time.  These ancient magicians have forsaken their connection with the earth, and wear heels, platform clogs, and even spring heeled shoes to keep their flesh as far from the Earth as possible.  Even J. Cochran Darrow has his own ulterior motives.

From here on out, the plot rushes around at an astonishingly frenzied pace, becoming wholly addictive. A master storyteller, Powers effortlessly layers characterization, the environment of London in 1810, and scenes that are rife with action and suspense.  I’d love to tell you all about it, every amazing detail and interconnected subplot, but we’d be here all night because Powers crams so much pure amazingness into every page, which includes time travel hijinks, pig latin, deranged clowns, golems, body switching werewolves, Punch and Judy possessions, a search for immortality, and all that just scratches the surface.

If you’re still not intrigued, I don’t know what else I can say.

One of my favorite thing about time travel books is that the characters, and often the readers, already know what’s going to happen.  Brendan knows that William Ashbless and Lord Byron show up in London on certain dates, because it’s in the biographies of those two poets. Taking a cue from A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, time traveling characters take advantage of foreknowledge of events and technology. Part of Powers’ rules of time travel is that he doesn’t mess with historical events. Recorded events still happen at the moments that they were supposed to happen. Time travel doesn’t allow someone to change events, it only allows them to witness what is happening.   People will still get married and die on the dates that Brendan once read about. If he knows a certain person is going to die in 1850, that person can risk their life in 1811, and Brendan can be sure they’ll survive.

Have you ever read a time travel book with a paradox? Someone kills their own grandfather and erases themself out of existence, or in Marty McFly’s case, nearly has an affair with their own mother?  A few scenes in The Anubis Gates certainly tease the possibility of a paradox. Ahh, but this is Tim Powers we are talking about. If anyone is going to come up with a genius method of leading the reader towards an unavoidable paradox and then leaping away from it, Powers is that writer.

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve read The Anubis Gates. It has everything I want in a  novel, of any genre – interesting characters, great world building, creepy bad guys, a bit of horror, a smidgen of romance, unexpected surprises, and twists and turns all over the place.  This was the first Powers novel I read, all those years ago, and if you’ve never read anything by him, I hope it will be your first Powers as well.


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16 Responses to "The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers"

Yes! This was also my first Tim Powers book, and it was so masterfully done that I had to take a break from sci-fi that included time travel for a while afterwards. I didn’t want to have to compare every time-travel story to The Anubis Gates. His “don’t change the historical facts” rule is a nice one that he dances around very well.


Every time I login to my library website, this book pops up. I think the universe is telling me I need to read this. Besides, I’m a sucker for time travel.


Okay, so I am admitting right here and now to only SKIMMING this post (and for that I say sorry). I will come back and read it once I’ve read this book, which you’ve now strongarmed me into doing BEFORE the Gene Wolfe-a-thon I had planned for November. ;)


Admission time: I’ve never read any Tim Powers. But this seems like the perfect gateway book, right? Adding it to my Goodreads to-read list.


The paperback of this has been on my shelf for many years. I’ve picked it up a couple of times, but never gotten more than a handful of pages in, not sure why. It’s now packed away with a lot of other “maybe I’ll try again someday” books.


The only Tim Powers book that I’ve read is a short story collection (The Bible Salesman) that I enjoyed but left me thinking that his books are probably not for me. Though your review of The Anubis Gate has me tempted to give it a try.


I read that short story collection too, and while I enjoyed it just fine, it wasn’t anything like Powers earlier works. If you were to read Anubis Gates right after reading Bible Repairman collection, it would be easy to think they were by different authors.


I developed a curiosity for steampunk a couple of years ago and the two titles that kept coming up were this and The Difference Engine. I enjoyed The Anubis Gates a lot more but felt I appreciated the other more.

Good review.


Great review of a great book. I love William Ashbless (and even have a couple of Powers and Blaylock books signed by him).


Ashbless autographs? NICE. ;)


Yep, one of then signs the “William” and the other the “Ashbless.”


This has been on my list of books that people tell me I should read for ages. I really should give it a shot :)

Jamie @ Mithril Wisdom


I’ve been wanting to read this for ages, I’m glad you’ve given me a good kick to pick it up.


don’t really care for time travel but i found a copy in a second-hand bookstore today. let’s see how it turns out.


let me know what you think! the time travel aspect is a minor part of the story.


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