Sounds like an awesome concept, right? My verdict? It was okay.
Mostly, I found the writing and plotting very...utilitarian. Duckett handled the main plot reasonably well and at a good pace, but the base concept left me wanting specific things from this book, and I was left unfulfilled.
For instance: I was hoping for lush setting details. That's part of the fun in a fantasy historical. Instead, Miranda can't go anywhere, the people are taciturn, and the setting remains gothically-generic. Even a masked ball didn't alleviate this, as Miranda immediately got pulled away from it.
Similarly, Dorothea's family is originally from Marrakech, and she feels like life in Italy is stripping her of her identity. I kept hoping we'd get some details of this identity. The taste of a sweet she misses, the kind of clothing she used to wear or poetry she used to read, but aside from her real name, we don't get any of that.
( Some More Examples, Cut for Spoilers )
You all starting to see what I mean? Perhaps I'm being a bit unfair, but the concept does invite wanting more.
On the positive end of things, Miranda is a good, fully-realized character. I wanted her to learn more and gain autonomy, and she did.
Dorothea, as a character, is... okay. She's not precisely a cypher, but I can tell when Duckett uses her as a mouthpiece at least once, and it shoots immersion all to hell. The romance is... okay. Moves too fast. I believe in them as friends, less as lovers.
Which leads me to another point. I really, really don't want to be that person, but Dorothea's fast seduction of Miranda left me a little squicked, seeing as how Miranda literally didn't know what sex was beforehand. Don't get me wrong, everything's consensual, and Miranda's super happy about it afterward, but I still wrinkled my nose a little. This could have been fixed so easily: Dorothea gossips about sex and women sleeping together; Miranda is intrigued instead of disturbed. There. Problem solved, while also giving them more bonding and banter time.
...Huh. Typing this out made me realize I was more frustrated with this book than I thought. There are some cool twists, though, and the cover is lovely! I realize that a lot of the problems I had boil down to it being a novella, but I think it's possible to pick a very few details and make a story come to life, while keeping it short. I also think this story wanted to be a longer novella, if not a novel.
Katherine discusses writing for NCIS: New Orleans.
These two novellas are, in a word, delightful, a rollicking adventure of history and time travel. The stakes are high - not just for the history of humankind, but on a personal level. Alice could lose her home, her freedom, even her life if she's found out. Prudence knows that changing history can have terrifying butterfly effects, which includes potentially wiping Prudence's beloved sister, Grace, from existence. What Heartfield is very good at is making these stakes very affecting, while maintaining a page-turner pace and a real sense of fun. The story may touch on dark elements, but at its core, it's not a dark story at all. Rather, it's a story about love, family, found and otherwise, and finding hope in a world that pushes you toward cynicism.
I love both the heroines. They are fierce, funny, flawed, and very human. These flaws, in fact, are some of what I like best about them. Alice is impulsive and adrenaline-hungry to a fault. Prudence, a former propagandist, has swallowed a bit more of her old faction's byline than she'd like to admit. Jane, Alice's companion and love of her life, has a chip on her shoulder about being disregarded and left behind.
Speaking of which, I really like Alice and Jane's relationship. Like the characters, it feels very real. They read like women in their thirties, who have been together for years and love each other deeply and comfortably without having lost their spark, and also without their relationship coming off as rose-colored-glasses-perfect. Part of it is, Jane's a fully realized character in her own right, with her own agency and emotional arc, something I've found frustratingly lacking in a lot of lesbian fiction love interests.
The secondary characters, from the temporally-unstable Grace, to Wray Auden, a local constable investigating Alice's highwayman hijinks and facing a 'lawful vs. good' crisis, are just as lovable as the leads. The primary antagonist proves a real threat without reading over the top, in part because you can see how he got there, even if the 'there' is callous and vaguely sociopathic.
Heartfield has a great eye for historical detail, painting the time-travelled history in powerful, unwordy strokes. When we first meet Prudence, for instance, she is trying and failing to save the Crown Prince Rudolph from his suicide at the Meyerling estate for the seventy-somethings time. In the course of the two novellas, Heartfield takes us to the American Revolution, future Canada, and (briefly) pre-Arthurian Britain, and gives us a strong sense of each place. As mentioned previously, Heartfield doesn't shy away from the darker sides of history. Both the heroines are women of color. Alice, in particular, is the manumitted daughter of a British nobleman and a Jamaican slave. The pain of that isn't glossed over, but neither is it dwelled on.
A deft touch, with a plot and characters who manage to have depth without a trace of ponderousness, plus a sweet, likable romance. These novellas made me happy, and so I highly recommend them.
kestrell explains how we can make more books readable.
Many writers and publishers still don't know about Bookshare, so in my emails I usually include a link to the Bookshare page describing how authors can get their books added to the library