Jove has apparently halted purchases of new manuscripts for the Time Passages line, which suggests that the line itself is on the verge of cancellation. It may be that there are not enough quality time travel stories out there to carry a whole line devoted to them; however, the quality of this particular book, Elizabeth Hallam’s Yesterday’s Flame, suggests that the subgenre in general still has some life left in it.
Annabel Lowell is a modern-day smoke jumper, an elite firefighter who specializes in forest fires. In a harrowing encounter with a raging forest fire, Annabel takes shelter in a cave in the hills outside of San Francisco. When she emerges from the cave, she finds that she is no longer in San Francisco of the year 2000, but has somehow been transported back to 1906, just before the great earthquake.
But how long before the earthquake? Annabel doesn’t know, because she’s never paid much attention to her history and doesn’t remember the date of the ‘quake. This adds a current of urgency to the plot, as Annabel tries to make her way in a city both familiar and unfamiliar to her.
She soon encounters Cole Brady, a wealthy and successful businessman who is a part-time fireman for the sheer love of the challenge. Cole is an appealingly decent hero, who tries to help Annabel without compromising her reputation. He is understandably skeptical of her claims to be a “lady fireman” but not obnoxiously so.
Annabel is a spunky heroine in every good sense of the word. After a annoying fainting spell on discovering her new temporal location, Annabel goes about landing on her feet in a very straightforward and level-headed way. She does not commit either of my two cardinal sins of time travel heroines: she does not whine constantly about going home, and she doesn’t try to turn everyone she meets into enlightened people fit for the year 2000.
The setting itself is very appealing, as neither the city nor the time period is overused in recent books. It is just modern enough to make Annabel’s adaptation seem believable, yet just foreign enough to make the time travel aspect truly enjoyable.
The only thing that detracted from the book for me was the subplot involving Cole’s conflicts with a Chinese tong led by the devious Wing Ko. The portrayal of the Chinese characters verged on stereotype, and the subplot added almost nothing to the story and in fact, detracted from the other suspense angle, the Great Quake. I would much rather have seen more of the quake and less of Wing Ko.
Similarly, it seemed overkill to make Cole a wealthy businessman in addition to being a firefighter. What’s wrong with an occasional working class romance hero? Cole’s believability as a character was compromised because the reader has to accept him as both an upper class denizen and a “man’s man” in the brotherhood of firemen. Somehow I doubt that either group would have accepted him quite so wholeheartedly.
Aside from these reservations, Yesterday’s Flame is a very pleasant few hours’ entertainment. The time travel device was appropriately mysterious, the adaptation issues (the meat of any time travel romance) were well-handled, and most important, there is no “cop-out” ending of the sort that many time-travel fans deplore. If this book is indeed one of the last few Time Passages novels, it is at least a worthy representative of that line.