A Matter of Time
Think of eating white rice without any kind of seasoning or accompaniment, and that pretty much sums up reading A Matter of Time. It’s certainly not a bad book, but while I wasn’t cringing in horror, I wasn’t enthralled either.
Douglas MacKendimen is hunky doctor with a strange heritage. His parents claim to have time-traveled from fourteenth-century Scotland to the present time. Douglas, sensible empiricist that he is, dismisses their talk as mere bedtime stories — despite the predictions made by Mairi, the wise woman of the MacKendimen clan, who foresees Douglas traveling to the past and meeting the woman of his destiny. Then one night, after meeting with Mairi by a an ancient arch on his ancestral land in Scotland, Douglas hears a woman crying for help. Running towards the voice, he passes through the arch, experiences a strange, debilitating dizziness and ends up rescuing a woman from an attempted rape. However, the men he encounters are dressed in kilts. Are they historical re-enactors run amok or has he actually managed to travel to the past?
Even more interesting, the comely maiden he rescues turns out to be the woman he has seen in a series of dreams that are alternately tormenting and erotic. Is Caitlin the woman about whom Mairi predicted? Are they meant to be with each other, or will the obstacles that stand in their way, including Craig, Caitlin’s devoted suitor, and Douglas’s longing to return to his home in modern-day Chicago, overcome them?
The hero and heroine are likable enough, as are all the secondary characters, but they’re all just too good to be true. Caitlin is the village healer, possessing supernatural healing powers that exact a pretty heavy price each time she uses them. Naturally, she uses it unstintingly. She is sweet and generous and forgiving and sexy and beautiful and patient and wise. She reminds me of Nancy Drew, only with supernatural powers instead of mystery-solving abilities. I like sympathetic characters, but paragons of human virtue rapidly become annoying. Douglas is not quite as perfect as Caitlin, but he’s not quite human either. He’s handsome, and smart, and sensitive, and a magnificent lover. Of course, he’s lost part of his soul in the soulless world of modern medicine and it takes the eminently warm and wise Caitlin to show him what it means to be a true healer. Eventually this takes on overtones of New Age lovey-doveyness that spoils the potential for the exploration of some interesting issues, such as the state of modern medicine.
Another problem was the clan’s calm acceptance of Caitlin’s supernatural powers. While it’s true that pagan influences and beliefs existed in Scotland in conjunction with the Church at this time, the reverence of Caitlin (among others) without fear or fear of reprisals did not ring true. There is absolutely no mention of religious condemnation of any kind, or even of a church or priest. In fact, there’s not a single mention of Christianity except for passing references of going to monasteries to trade for medicinal herbs. The tolerant attitude seems far too understanding and, well, modern for medieval times. While Brisbin should be lauded for not inflicting yet another nasty religious-fanatic villain on us, a few disapproving religious conservatives would have helped dispel the unrealistic love-in feel the book sometimes takes on.
Perhaps the largest stumbling blocks in this book for me are the dialogue and the logistics of language use—problems all time-travel authors have to face. Brisbin solves the issue by having Douglas learn Gaelic from his parents in modern-day America, which seems to enable him to understand the good people of medieval Scotland perfectly. However, I’d think that medieval Gaelic would be very different from modern Gaelic, just as Old and Middle English are significantly different from modern English. But since I don’t know anything about Gaelic and how much it has (or hasn’t) changed in the past six centuries, perhaps my skepticism is unfounded.
The Scottish brogue used in the book reminded me of Mike Myers doing one of his Scottish characters, or Groundskeeper Willie from The Simpsons — “verra,” “tae,” “doon” and other such staple words are used often and faithfully. Although there are few glaring anachronisms in the dialogues, the pace is distinctly modern. All the characters speak in short, punchy sentences with many contractions, which jarred with the constant “’tis”-ing and “’twas”-ing.
A Matter of Time strives so hard to be likable and inoffensive that it becomes bland as a result. It’s part of a series, and although it can be read on its own, some of the background from the previous book is incorporated very awkwardly, which adds to the somewhat amateurish feel of the novel. However, it’s fairly entertaining, and anyone who loved the prequel, A Love Through Time, may want to check it out.