Charlie Jane Anders is basically magic, so I’m sure I’m not surprising anyone when I say I’ve loved everything of hers I’ve read, but this was my first brush with an audiobook she’d written, and… well, again, no surprise, I loved it. I listened to it more-or-less compulsively, rather than spreading it out over multiple dog-walks, and blasted through the novella in about a day, around frustrating interruptions like “talking to people” and “eating food.” “The Cartography of Sudden Death” is a Tor original (you can go read it at that link, but I can heartily suggest the audio, too) and has one of the most unique concepts for time-travel I’ve ever read: doorways in time open when people of high enough historical and cultural impact die suddenly.
If that doesn’t make immediate sense, then you’re going to be in the same boat as the main character of the story, Athena, who watches as the woman she serves (as part of a contingent of 1,000 others serving her) dies suddenly and unexpectedly—and then a red-haired woman arrives seemingly out of nowhere. The woman explains a bit about who she is—time traveller, the whole notion of time-travel through death, which she’s trying to create a complete map for—and then everything goes pear shaped when another time-traveller using the same method but with zero compunction about making deaths happen to fuel his trips arrives and… well. Athena ends up going on a time-travel chase alongside the woman after the assassin.
“The Cartography of Sudden Death” is perfection when it comes to immersive world-building: Athena’s lot in life is described, but not overtly explained, and Anders leaves it to the reader to infer what isn’t said. The empire that Athena belongs to, and the various jaunts through time that she goes on, all provide just enough of a glimpse to give a core construct of the culture, with the time-traveler explaining a few key details to Athena on a more-or-less needs-to-know basis. And Athena’s characterization is suited so perfectly to this story that everything flows so smoothly. Honestly, it’s one of the best time travel stories I’ve ever read in my life. And the audio performer, Imani Jade Powers, does an equally wonderful job as well.