A funny thing happened on the way to the past in Night Visitor: this somewhat skeptical reader began to enjoy herself very much. Don’t get me wrong, I’m always on the lookout for new time travel novels. But the ones I find often don’t live up to my expectations, hence my wariness.
Jackson’s heroine, Tafaline (Taffy) Lytton makes up one half of a strong, likable couple. Taffy lives in 1888 Britain and has accompanied her father to Scotland where he lets her photograph his archaeological finds. Though he tolerates Taffy’s unladylike hobby, her father doesn’t really approve, nor does he like the fact that she returned home from her visit to New York without a husband. Thus she spends much of her time avoiding him, riding her bicycle and developing her photos. When she is called to Duntrune Castle to photograph bones that may have belonged to Malcolm MacIntyre she eagerly accepts. MacIntyre was the piper who warned Colkitto’s ship away from Duntrune in 1644, saving him from the Campbells. He then lost his hands and his life for his efforts.
Malcolm is a fictionalized version of this mythic character from Scotland’s past. He makes up the other half of what soon becomes a two-person story. Somehow, perhaps because they share MacLeod blood, Malcolm and Taffy are bound to each other. She senses his presence in her time and he can see a shadow of her as he heads for Duntrune Castle. Taffy is haunted by this ghost from the past and feels there is nothing to do but somehow save him from the Campbells.
How often have you read a time travel and wondered why, when the traveler knows they’re going to be going back in time, they don’t do so with a little more preparation. It’s something I’ve often thought, which is why I started to smile when Taffy makes ready. Not only does she read up on the time period, but she packs with purpose:
Taffy needed everything she was carrying. The lantern was critical, as were her rifle and ammunition belts. Nor could she visit another century and not take her camera and a supply of plates. And then there were her bulky satchels divided between bandages, photographic plates, and sandwiches, fruit, chocolates, and a purloined flask of whiskey.
She also packs the brass knuckles she picked up in New York and dresses in a dress made of jean and hiking boots. When Taffy meets up with Malcolm they end up on a hunted journey across 17th Century Scotland. They are both helped and hindered along the way by the hidden Stillfolk who seem to have a purpose in bringing the couple together. Whatever their purpose, Taffy and Malcolm develop a very real relationship as they travel. Forced to depend on one another, they learn the wonders of trust and love while fearing that they’ll be separated at any time. This is the great strength of this novel.
The primary weakness of the book is in the method of time travel. A lot of writers choose a complicated, hard to understand or believe method of travel. Jackson doesn’t do that. Rather she goes the route of least said which isn’t always best either. There’s no explanation of how Taffy figures out how to go back in time much less how she’s able to do so. We know magic is involved, but how does she know that? It’s very unclear. When she and Malcolm devise methods to remain together, there’s a bit more explanation but again it all seems to come together a little too easily.
So for those of you who need all the i’s dotted and her t’s crossed when it comes to how the time travel occurs you should probably check out a different story. That being said, I do recommend this as a very strong road romance, with time travel, history and magic thrown in.