I didn’t have very high hopes for Timestruck by Flora Speer – those folks at Lovespell really need to think about their cover art – but I was pleasantly surprised.
Gina McCain is the bitter, untrusting product of the foster care system. She has no friends and no life, but that’s okay: she’s about to be transported back in time to the eighth century, so it’s good that she hasn’t gotten too comfortable in the twentieth.
One minute Gina is trying to make a computer Y2K-compatible, and the next minute she’s falling through the air, through the roof of a house (leaving it intact), and into the bed of a manly medieval hunk. He is Lord Dominick, one of Charlemagne’s most loyal knights, and he doesn’t know how Gina got into his bed. He figures that she must be a spy sent by the evil queen (I’ll get to her in a minute). Dominick’s goal is to get Gina to tell him whom she’s working for. Gina’s goal is to figure out how to get back to New York.
It isn’t long before Gina and Dominick are sharing kisses, confidences, and more. This is where things get interesting. Our hero and heroine both become unwillingly embroiled in a plot by Charlemagne’s son, Pepin, to seize the throne. Pepin is the innocent tool of a group of scheming nobles, and Dominick is determined to foil the conspiracy without betraying Pepin’s confidence. He and Gina go to the king’s court at Regensburg, where together they investigate the conspiracy and attempt to avoid the machinations of Charlemagne’s evil, mean, vengeful, spiteful, vicious, wicked fourth wife, Fastrada, who ruins people’s lives for fun.
As a heroine, Gina is a bit on the spunky side. If the hero tells her to stay, she goes, and vice versa. Occasionally her spunkiness lurches over into stupidity (like when she lectures Charlemagne – Charlemagne! – as though he were a naughty schoolboy). Of course, Dominick is a bit thick himself, sometimes. Neither character is terribly memorable, but neither is bad company, either, and I enjoyed the way they conducted their relationship with love and mutual respect. The love scenes are not explicit, but there are a lot of them – be prepared for quite a bit of lovemaking. The prose is amusingly purple, as when “Gina’s mind exploded into rainbow-hued fragments.” Ow.
There are several things about Timestruck that bothered me, most of which are things it has in common with many time-travel romances. For instance, Gina gets zapped back in time for no obvious reason (except “fate,” I suppose). Characters tell each other things about the historical situation that they both already know, for the reader’s benefit. Also, I would expect a twentieth-century woman to have a harder time adjusting to the very real hardships of eighth-century Europe: no plumbing, no antibiotics, no anesthetic! However, if you enjoy time-travels, you’re probably used to suspending your disbelief over matters like these, and they might not bother you.
I liked this book, in spite of its occasional silliness, because author Speer takes a real chance and mostly pulls it off. How many romances set at Charlemagne’s court have you read? And I was fascinated to learn that the conspiracy plot is based on historical events, and that several of the secondary characters are historical figures. I was going to complain that Fastrada is just a little over-the-top, but in her postscript the author writes that she “actually toned down her character. . .to make her more believable.” Which pretty much takes the wind out of my sails.
Although Speer works true events into her story, the setting never really feels like the eighth century. I waffled for a while between giving this book a B- and a C+, and the lack of a good historical feel was the deciding factor. Still, I wanted to point out in the review that this is a strong C+.
Look past the cheesy cover art, and you’ll find that Timestruck is surprisingly entertaining. It provides lots of adventure and humor, a love story between a hero and heroine who treat each other well, and it tells a very interesting true historical story. It’s not perfect, but if you’re looking for an undemanding read you could do far worse. And then at your next lunch with your girlfriends, you can say, “Did you know that Charlemagne’s fourth wife was evil to the core?”