CM . . .
. Volume XXIV Number 19. . . .January 19, 2018
Rings of Time.
Victoria, BC: Tellwel Talent, 2017.
276 pp., trade pbk., hc. & eBook, $19.99 (pbk.), $29.99 (hc.), $5.99 (eBook).
ISBN 978-1-77370-136-3 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-77370-137-0 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-77370-138-7 (eBook).
Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.
Review by Ruth Latta.
I couldn't believe my eyes. It was my tree, the tree from the future. It never occurred to me that I had been searching for something that might not exist yet in the form that it did in the future. I hadn't thought of the tree much since those first few weeks after I arrived. I'd given up hope of ever finding it, and to be honest, I'd given up the desire. But there it stood, cracked through its core, molded by the cosmos into the strangest and most wonderful tree. The universe had again presented me with an opportunity, and perhaps the chance to return to my life in the future. But I couldn't do it.
I couldn't go back to feeling lost and alone. The future held nothing for me compared to what I'd found a hundred years in the past. I had family here, people who seemed to love me as much as I loved them. This wondrous tree had given me a chance to travel through a fracture in time to meet my ancestors and experience life through their eyes...That small mystery baby in the photograph was no longer a mystery. I had helped bring her into the world and to one day marry a man named Padraig Stranaghan and create generations of my family to come.... It didn't matter whether baby Emilie was my great-grandmother, aunt or cousin, because she was family.
Rings of Time, a time-travel romance, will appeal to fans of that genre and to anyone who likes fast-paced stories filled with plot twists. It opens with 18-year-old Emilie in a Child Services Office in Calgary, wanting information about her birth parents. To her disappointment, she learns that she was an infant abandoned in Mountainview, near Calgary, with only two clues to her identity: an old-time photo of a baby with the name Emilie Marie written on the back, and a small key.
Emilie's sincere voice is appealing as she describes her search for her identity. Consulting an ancestry site for girls named Emilie Marie who were born between 1895 and 1920 in Mountainview, she finds "... sixteen matches, sixteen potential families that could have been mine." She emails the contact person for each family, attaching the baby picture and asking for information about the child in the photo. A James Stranaghan replies that the baby was his grandmother, and he invites Emilie to a family reunion in Mountainview.
There, Emilie visits the family memorabilia tent and sees a photograph of a couple with the same baby, the photo labelled "Grandma and Grandpa with baby Emilie." She also sees a yellow gold ring etched with a Celtic knot and tries the ring on. The ring gets stuck on her finger, and, alarmed, she goes to the river to wet her hands in the hope of removing it. By the river is an oak, remarkable because some great force has sliced into it, exposing its core with its "rings of time" When Emilie touches the tree, she feels a magnetic pull between its rings and the ring on her finger. At the river, the ring slips off. She wades in to retrieve it, is sucked under, and almost drowns.
Writers of time-travel novels face the challenge of finding an original and convincing way for the central character to journey back to the past. Veillet has done so in a clever way that provides an imagery of circularity. Age rings on the tree, circles on water and the gold ring suggest that Emilie will eventually put together her broken family circle.
Time-travel romance has its own conventions. As in Rings of Time, it is usually the young woman who travels back in time and falls in love with someone from a bygone era. Emilie is rescued from drowning by a strong, attractive man who has been bathing in the river and is naked. Impulsively, he presses a kiss on her lips. Then a rough-looking man on horseback comes into sight and shouts, "I've found her."
He and another equally rough man are escorting a group of young women engaged to Alberta homesteaders - mail order brides. They think Emilie is one "Emily Turner" who has strayed from the group. Because she is in wet shorts and a top and was found in a compromising position with her rescuer, they consider her damaged goods and anticipate that her prospective bridegroom will reject her and not pay them what he owes for bringing her west.
At first, Emilie is confused by the women in Edwardian garb who tell her she has amnesia and must stop talking about leaving or she will end up in an asylum. She notices, however, that the landscape is not like that of the picnic site near Mountainview. There is no satellite tower, no red flame on the flare by the nearby gas plant. Gradually, she realizes that she has slipped into the past. When her rescuer, a local settler named Liam McGregor, offers to marry her and pay the two men what they are owed, she agrees, rather than take her chances with the two rough escorts. Privately, she resolves to find the river bank and oak and return to the 21st century.
Liam doesn't follow up on that first kiss but becomes distant, taciturn and critical of her efforts to adjust to pioneer life. He is the classic brooding hero, akin to Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre and Maxim de Winter in Rebecca. In a failed attempt to find the tree and return to 2013, Emilie meets a neighbour and helps deliver her baby. Both she and Liam agree to get an annulment or divorce, but events keep getting in the way.
The novel includes historical elements, including details of pioneer housekeeping and agriculture, encounters with the women's suffrage movement, and, eventually, steamship travel, but the primary focus is the rocky relationship between Emilie and Liam. Rings of Time is more of a time-travel romance than a historical novel.
In the chapters narrated by Kara McGregor, neighbour and mother of baby Emilie Marie, the author introduces a connection with the British aristocracy. It turns out that Liam is not only a man of noble character but is actual nobility. Falsely accused of murder, he is passing himself off as his friend Gabe McGregor's brother and keeping a low profile as he works his homestead. Through a series of plot twists, he eventually resumes his true identity and heritage as "William Wallace."
Time-travel romance writers face the challenge of coming up with a compelling reason for the heroine to want to stay in the past rather than return to the present. Love may not be enough. In some such novels, the heroine realizes that, despite her love for the hero, she cannot cope with the discomfort, disease and demands of yesteryear. In Rings of Time, Veillet has worked out convincing reasons for Emilie to remain in the early 20th century, as shown in the introductory quotation. Though impatient with some of the social customs of 1913, Emilie can look forward to the comforts that Liam's wealth and station can provide.
Fans of Titanic will be excited by the last three chapters, but to have the story culminate in a disaster at sea, after so many melodramatic plot twists already, seems over-the-top. The ocean disaster, however, lets the author introduce a little Irish boy who is necessary to the family tree which links baby Emilie Marie to James Stranaghan and Emilie. The epilogue shows this connection in an imaginative and subtle way. In this her first novel, Veillet shows a mastery of the time-travel romance genre.
Ruth Latta's published books include three young adult novels. Grace in Love, an historical novel for grownups, will be published in 2018.
© CM Association
University of Manitoba
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