The Promise is a gentle time-travel story with a couple that pulls each other across time between 1888 and 2002. I really like a well-done time-travel story, and the time-travel elements in this story worked nicely. Unfortunately, the rest of the plot never caught fire in a way that would elevate the book as a whole above an average read.
At age 16, Cara Reynolds is having a perfect Birthday – until the car accident that kills both her parents and flings her out into the cold night. She would have frozen if Michael McPherson had not found her and brought her to shelter in an abandoned mine tunnel. But the next morning, each finds the other gone. Nine years later, after Cara had long been convinced that the entire experience had been a hallucination, it happens again, only this time it’s Michael who is seriously injured, and this time both realize what has happened – that Michael has been shifted forward into Cara’s time.
What this book does well is the best part of time travel stories: the slow reluctant realization of the time shift, the amazement at the differences between times, the agony in recognizing that for both lovers to be in their own “proper” times would mean permanent separation. I love the way that items, people, and situations in the two different times eventually all fit into the same story. Moreover, the setting is an integral part of the story in both times – it doesn’t feel like it could be generic Western Anywhere, but was very specifically the mountainous mining territories of Colorado. Strong descriptions of the surroundings worked to bring the setting to life, and the history felt accurate. 1888 truly seems like another century, not a weak copy of modern day with everyone wearing funny clothes.
It was also nice to read about a couple who knew from the start that there was something important between them. No denial, no silly misunderstandings, just the realistic (given the fantastic situation) reluctance to move forward in what seems to be a doomed relationship. Unfortunately, both Cara and Michael were so nice, so decent that they seemed a bit flat. More interesting was the secondary relationship between Michael’s younger brother Patrick, who has to finally grow up and take responsibility in his life, and the pragmatic prostitute Loralee; these two have more to overcome to make things work out and I would have liked to see more of that.
Unfortunately, the mystery/suspense aspects of the plot take far too much time. In the modern day, the bad guy is so oily and obvious that Snidely Whiplash would be embarrassed for him. The 19th century villains are not much better. They all seemed to have attended the School of Really Tired Villain Dialogue, as they spout lines like, “So, the lady likes it rough,” and “Well, well, what do we have here?” and “I’m afraid, my dear, we’ve run out of time.”
While this book shows, well, promise for author Dee Davis, The Promise would be a much stronger book with more time spent in fleshing out the intriguing characters, and less time spent on cliché-ridden suspense plots.