Rating: 3.5 stars
When Lord Nicholas Falcott, the Marquess of Something-or-other (I finished this book more than a month ago and can't be bothered to go looking up piddling details like that) is about to be killed on the battlefield in Spain in 1812, he suddenly finds himself transported forward in time about 200 years. After being nearly run over by a car, he wakes up in a modern hospital, in the company of a stranger who tells him that jumping through time is less unusual than one might think. There is a secret organisation called the Guild, with very strict rules, the two most important being "There is no return", either in time or place. Once time travellers are trained for a year by the Guild, to get used to their new century and life, they will be relocated to a country other than their homeland, and they may never return. To aid them in their new lives in a strange and wonderful future, keeping the secrets of the past, the Guild pays their members a staggering amount of money each year, allowing them to live in all the luxury they could want. Nicholas is told that as he is believed to have died on the battlefield in Spain, his title died with him. He must now get used to a new name and identity - Nick Davenant.
Some of the time travellers in the Guild training facility are a bit more reluctant to swallow all the corporate cool-aid they are served, and start asking questions. Soon they have gone missing, and Nick is unsure if they left of their own free will, to search out truths elsewhere or whether the Guild had them assassinated. He decides to play it safe, and settles in to a life of comfortable indolence in New York and Vermont. After about ten years as Nick Davenant, he receives a summons from the Guild Alderwoman (head honcho) to meet her in London. So the rules of the Guild are clearly more like guidelines, if the right people want them to be. He discovers that quite a few of the Guild members can travel backwards and forwards in time, and that their rival organisation, the Ofan, can do the same. They just don't want the untrained to try it willy-nilly. Now they need Nick to become Lord Nicholas again, and go back to 1815, resuming his old life as the Marquess, because something is seriously messing up the fabric of time, and the people responsible for it, are possibly connected to the social circles that Nick used to frequent.
By going back to Regency England, Nick has to try to re-learn his role as a nobleman, seemingly unaware of the huge social and political changes taking place in the two centuries since he was born. The Industrial Revolution, the Labour Movement, Women's Suffrage, all of it must be unknown to Lord Nicholas Falcott. He also has to convince his grieving family where he's been for the past three years, since his supposed death in Spain. And in 1815, Nick may finally reunite with the beguiling Miss Julia Percy, whose lovely eyes have haunted and comforted Nick in the decade since he jumped forward in time. What Nick (and his companions) don't know is that Julia is much more closely connected to the mystery they are going back in time to solve, and that she has abilities neither the Guild nor the Ofan have ever experienced before.
I am not of the opinion that just because there is time travel in a story, it's automatically science fiction. There is no time machine anywhere in this novel. This is more of a paranormal fantasy, with a number of individuals with unusual powers, able to travel backwards and forwards in time (or manipulate time in other ways) because of inborn abilities. They're not transporting themselves through time with the aid of technology, which I feel is the requirement for it to be sci-fi (which means that yes, I disagree that Outlander be classified the same way). If forced to classify this book in only one strict genre, I would say that it's a historical romance, Regency, to be specific. The majority of the plot takes place in 1815, with a chunk of the introduction being in our present time. Taking a 19th Century Marquess out of his own, extremely privileged time and plonking him into the 21st Century means he has to go through quite a lot of attitude adjustments. Nick Davenant is an enlightened guy who certainly likes the more sexually liberated women of the future.
When back in Regency England, he has to remember that being alone with an unmarried woman is deeply scandalous. While he is initially quite happy with the progressive ideas his spinster sister had for the distribution of his family lands (believing her brother several years dead), but then is forced to reconsider his reactions, as Lord Nicholas knows nothing of socialism, workers' collectives or women's liberation. Naturally, the quest to find the magical MacGuffin that can save all of time and space is a lot more complicated and time consuming than Nick and his cohorts expected, fraught with unexpected challenges and dangers.
I knew very little about this book when I picked it up, and assumed it was a completely stand-alone story. Had I known what I know now, that the book ends in an extremely open-ended way, with most of the important story threads dangling in the air, and the potential sequel for the book to be released at a currently unknown point in the future, I know that I would have approached it differently, and probably not been as disappointed with the last third of the book. I therefore warn you, dear reader - this is NOT a complete story. There is a prequel (which I haven't read), but as of this moment in time, no sequel, because the author is still working on it. Because I thought it was a self-contained story, I was most upset when the plot was hurtling towards its end, with no clear indication of anything at all being resolved.
As well as the complex time travel rules, with two opposite and rival organisations wanting to control who and how people travel through time, there are all manner of soap-operaesque plot twists. There's romance, evil relatives, grieving parents, an age-old feud spanning through time. It's a very entertaining book, as long as you're fully aware that you're not going to get much of anything resolved, and what is sorted by the end of the book mainly opens up new questions that will presumably be answered in the at some point to be published sequel. I really liked Julia as a character, and Nick grew on me, even though I still think he has a lot of potential for improvement in the sequel. If I'd known this was part one of a story, I suspect I would have rated it higher. I also wouldn't have read it until the sequel (or sequels) were out, if I could help it.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.