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The Kairos Mechanism: 03/02/18
The Kairos Mechanism by Kate Milford is the sequel to The Boneshaker and the keystone holding together her Bradburyesque historical horror with her more Pratchettesque modern day fantasies.
In the same year as The Kairos Mechanism, there was also The Broken Lands which served as a prequel to The Boneshaker. It tried to explain the battle of the crossroads and the reason why Arcane was beset again with an evil traveling show (though the first time the city didn't survive, as evidenced by the ghost town near the crossroads). But New York City has its own rules and those rules didn't fit well with the way Milford world-builds and wordplays. At least on a first reading; I have a feeling I will need to re-read the book at a slower more critical pace.
The Kairos Mechanism happened outside the world of traditional publishing in that it was published through funds raised via Kickstarter. All of this happened though before Milford was even on my radar and three years before I even had the notion to restart my road narrative study.
As Milford's books always have stories wrapped in stories, let me set the stage for my reading of her books. The Boneshaker I ran into at Powell's in Portland. We were visiting for the Fourth of July. I read it on the way home in the car. Then I re-read it in the context of another road trip (to Los Angeles, I think) as an audiobook.
The next year she Kickstartered another book, Bluecrowne, which is now being re-released as part of the Greenglass House series. But this point where her career was taking off and she was finding her voice, I missed. So now I come to her earlier works with a mixture of awe and twenty-twenty hindsight. At least I didn't let twenty years slip by like I did with Terry Pratchett!
Thankfully someone had sold their copy of The Kairos Mechanism to a used bookstore and I was able to purchase it and read it in the run-up to the release of Bluecrowne.
This slim volume, only one hundred sixty pages, takes the foundation of the crossroads magic explored in both The Boneshaker and The Broken Lands and fleshes them out so that Raconteur's Commonplace passages in the Greenglass House books can be read with greater clarity.
The book starts simply enough, with Nataline Minks and the other residents of Arcane, Missouri taking notice of two visitors bringing home the body of one of their residents — a man who died years ago during the Civil War. Except the body is well preserved and the boys who bring him home appear to act and dress from a completely different era.
Thus is introduced two kinds of time: Kronos: time flowing in a line; and Kairos: the opportune time. There are moments in life and the universe that are so special, so unique, so indelible that they can be skipped to if one knows how.
Natalie with her open eyes and curious mind once again catches the attention of a dangerous visitor. But she also has the wherewithal to save her town. In doing so she catches a glimpse of the men behind the man who has come to plunder Arcane. Now having read the Greenglass House books first, I recognized their names. In this context, though, they were there as an Easter Egg, a clue, and a set up for Bluecrowne which was the original introduction to Nagspeake.
For fans like me didn't get to read The Kairos Mechanism the first time around, I hope it gets a re-release like Bluecrowne. Milford's upcoming books, besides the re-release, include Rialto (2020) described as a standalone middle grade (but so far none of her books are complete standalones), and The Raconteur's Commonplace (2020).
I will be diving further into Milford's use of time and crossroads in an upcoming essay.