Virginia and the Vagabond
Début author Skyler Frey’s Virginia and the Vagabond (Time Traveler’s Network #1) misses the mark as a believable romance, but it fares decently well as captivating time travel fiction. The novel offers a unique premise, vivid historical details, and exciting plot twists that should satisfy readers. And I wholeheartedly support the author’s choice to discuss the ethical implications of time travel, rather than exploring wormholes and the space-time continuum. However, there are problems with the overall execution and writing technique that overshadow the imaginative storytelling.
While touring an underground crypt, art historian and grad student Virginia Leigh is inexplicably sent backward in time to the Edwardian English countryside. Still stuck in the past two years later, Virginia (under the alias Sarah) works as a lady’s maid at Howard House, the palatial estate of Lord and Lady Howard. Even though Virginia obeys the classist and sexist societal rules of the pre-World War I era, she very much wants to return to her life of tampons and women’s rights. In fact, she is almost ready to execute her plan to leave the Howards and find a way back to the 21st century. But then she meets Eric Rylander.
Since unintentionally arriving in the past six years earlier, famous Hollywood movie actor Eric Rylander has become a well-known silent film star. Content with the quieter pre-social media days of the early 1900s, Eric is ready to settle down with Lady Lara Howard, the daughter of Virginia’s employer. Just as he is about to announce his engagement, Eric discovers that Virginia is a fellow time traveler and one of his biggest fans. He is instantly besotted and eagerly extricates himself from his romantic entanglement with the earl’s daughter. Given Eric’s poor relationship track record and the intensity of his sudden devotion, Virginia has doubts. But she is no less consumed by burning desire for the man with whom she shares common ground. Amid the Downton Abbey-esque ‘downstairs’ drama and the perils of the suffragette movement, Virginia must decide whether or not she has a future with a man who lives in the past.
Skyler Frey succeeds in crafting a rich historical setting with an eye for art, interior design, and period dress. Unfortunately, Virginia and the Vagabond did not truly hook me until I had reached the halfway mark. In the first half of this lengthy tome, subpar writing, unlikable romance protagonists, and a forced love story failed to connect me to the story. The slowly paced narrative contains grammatical errors, long-winded dialogue, and a host of rarely used words (that I’m convinced were made up simply to torture me). Perhaps, the average person doesn’t need help decoding the meanings of “chatoyant eyes,” “empyrean glow,” “the cabochons of her knee caps,” and “the gangly albedo of his ribs.” But, I had to break out the dictionary. This repetitive disruption negatively impacted my reading experience.
As for protagonists Virginia and Eric, my tender feelings for them were fleeting. They exhibit personality and a modicum of relatability in their brief backstories, but their characters lack depth and growth in the primary narrative. In short, Virginia is a generally caring person with dubious morality; Eric is a generally selfish man who frequently lies. (And, his favorite movie is The Hangover. Need I say more?) Frey frequently tells, rather than shows, the reader that Virginia and Eric’s insta-love for each other is true and special. But their intimate connection is ultimately predicated on codependency and lust.
By contrast, the second half of Virginia and the Vagabond yields fantastic twists, fun action, and a jaw-dropping reveal that raises the stakes in a compelling way. And more is learned about an intriguing villain who is sure to appear in subsequent tales. Most importantly, Frey develops a handful of secondary characters who are collectively and individually more compelling than Virginia and Eric. Even though the novel improves considerably towards the end, there are parts of the story that don’t entirely add up and historical facts that are awkwardly recited in casual conversations.
For all of its flaws, Virginia and the Vagabond does deliver some exciting moments and charming supporting cast. Skyler Frey sets up potential stories for upcoming installments in the Time Traveler’s Network that sound very promising. Time travel romance fans might check out book two in the series, The Adventures of Alec and Astrid (summer 2020), which has the potential to be a much more interesting and romantically engaging read.