Rating: 3.5 stars
Professor Tobias Woods leads a very quiet, closeted life as a professor in a conservative private college in Grand Rapids, Michigan. But behind his reserved demeanor lies a confused man tormented by dreams of a past life and little knowledge of his own history prior to his adoption as a teenager in England. Toby turns all his energies into his dissertation and helping catalog the medieval collection of a nearby museum. Then a knight appears before him and everything he knows about himself is shattered as his past comes back with the promise of an old love renewed.
It is the year 1340, England and Sir Alwyn is about to die having lost everything he loved. Cast out, disgraced and now hunted by knights like himself, Wyn is haunted by the fate of his love, Tobias at the hands of the town elders and knows he is next. Their crime? Loving each other, even the church calls out for his death. But an angel interferes and he is reunited with a man who he knows to be his own Tobias.
But Toby is consumed with fear. The man before him says they were lovers hundreds of years ago and old memories start to resurface. But Toby’s fear increases as do his nightmares. Is time travel possible? Have they been given another chance? It is up to Toby to conquer his fears or let their last chance for happiness slip away forever.
This was a first book I have read by Brynn Paulin and I found much to like about her plot and characters. Paulin gives us a tale of lovers lost and reunited centuries later and combines it with tantalizing, sometimes horrific visions of past tortures for the crimes of sodomy. Toby and Wyn are appearling characters, each with their own vulnerabilities and strengths. Toby is especially somewhat frail emotionally, his past a total mystery as the only thing he can remember is being found by farmers in a field when he was a teenager. We only get a small part of Sir Alwyn’s life in 1340 before he is transported to present day Michigan.
The story zips along at a quick pace but it is the tone that I found myself having problems with. At some sections of her story, Paulin pulls up the drama and angst inherent in Wyn and Toby’s situation and makes us feel their uncertainty and pain over their current situation. But just as you are losing yourself in the story, Paulin changes gear and a measure of almost slapdash humor that breaks up the momentum of the story and breaks the connection between the reader and the characters. For example, the angel who continues to appear throughout the story is first seen as a glowing, figure of mercy. She has a serious countenance and manner which fits in which her actions and the events that are happening. Then halfway through the story, the angel reappears and she starts channeling Cyndi Lauper:
” She rubbed her nails on her sleeve then looked at them. “I’m just that good. Have fun, kids, but wait ’til I leave. I’m supposed to be pure and stuff.” She pointed up. “The big guy gets irritated when I play outside the corral.” She made a square with her fingers. “But He’s all-loving and believes in all love, if you know what I mean. So cut out the ‘it’s a test’ theories, kid. You don’t want to get struck by lightning.”
Now we have gone through many, many passages and now her character totally changes? That unevenness in narrative is displayed throughout the story. We get an awful but authentic scene ripped from the history pages and then Paulin presents us with a knight who has no problems with all the gadgets and societal changes of the modern era. What no pulling of swords when he first sees an automobile? Or plane? It’s as though the author can’t make up her mind whether this is a comedy with its tongue firmly in cheek or a fantastical tale of love through the ages so she gives us both to the detriment of the story.
There were just enough elements for me to give this story a 3.5 rating. Yes, there were parts where I sniffed, true. And the specific torture used at that time for those committing sodomy is in the news right now as the bones of Richard III were recently dug up in a parking lot in England. One of the facts revealed by his autopsy? He suffered the same fate as King Edward, although for Richard it was a knife and not a hot poker that was used. I also appreciated the emotional growth that Toby had to achieve in order for them to have their HEA, another lovely touch. But such nice facets of this story are weighed down by misplaced odd humor and just jarring bits of narrative that stop the flow of the story enough that it makes it hard to recapture the emotions the author just pulled out of you moments before.
So I will be on the lookout for more stories by this author because of the promise I see within this one. Should you read it? Sure, it’s flawed but entertaining. But don’t set the bar of your expectations too high, it will be easier to appreciate the fine points of the story and two lovely characters who I think deserved a better fate.
Cover design by Dar Albert.
Book released by Ellora’s Cave on February 13th.