Review: Into the Dim by Janet B. Taylor
This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“When fragile, sixteen-year-old Hope Walton loses her mom to an earthquake overseas, her secluded world crumbles. Agreeing to spend the summer in Scotland, Hope discovers that her mother was more than a brilliant academic, but also a member of a secret society of time travelers. And she’s alive, though currently trapped in the twelfth century, during the age of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Hope has seventy-two hours to rescue her mother and get back to their own time. Passing through the Dim, Hope enters a brutal medieval world of political intrigue, danger, and violence. A place where any serious interference could alter the very course of history. And when she meets a boy whose face is impossibly familiar, she must decide between her mission and her heart—both of which could leave Hope trapped in the past forever.”
This book is set in Scotland, has time travel into England during the time of Henry II, and has been compared to Outlander. Of course it’s going to get my attention! Once I saw that synopsis, my interest was piqued and I put in my NetGalley request. I initially thought I might have to wait until the book was released, but then I got the notification that I’d been granted early access. So, I dove in and started reading.
I gotta admit–Outlander this is not. I think that, barring a few mature elements, this might be a good introduction to the time-travel romance genre for early high school kids, or maybe good readers in middle school. Anybody beyond that might find it lacking in suspense and complexity of plot.
Basically, the vast majority of the plot twists can be seen coming a mile away. That’s why I say the novel is lacking in suspense. There really aren’t any surprises in this book, although there are a few times that I thought “Oh, that’s a neat idea”. But neat ideas alone can’t carry a story; there has to be some force propelling the plot along, and uncertainty about what happens next isn’t doing it here.
A personal peeve that I had with this book relates to language. The characters travel back in time to the twelfth century, and their tutoring in the language they would encounter refers to a “twisty medieval dialect”. Unfortunately, that’s not what they would have found when they got there, because in the time of Henry II, England was speaking Middle English, which sounds almost nothing like modern English. It is, essentially, its own separate language, a mix of the Germanic Old English and the tongue of the conquering Normans, which was French. There were terms in common use then that have died out by now, and terms that we use that didn’t exist then. On that note, there’s a moment where a character talks about Hope’s “bloody photographic memory” and another characters tells her not to use “bloody” because it wasn’t in use in the twelfth century. There is, however, no mention of the fact that “photographic” wouldn’t be in use for over 700 years.
Another peeve relates to that photographic (eidetic) memory. Hope can recall things that she’s read once, which is fine, but she also does things that aren’t part of the phenomenon of eidetic memory. For example, in a few scenes, she seems to pull information out of thin air to do complex calculations about force, angles, and trajectories. This isn’t something she would do with only eidetic memory. I have to wonder if Hope was influenced by the character of Cassandra in the TV show The Librarians. Cassandra is often portrayed as visualizing information and moving it about with her hands to sort it out, and that seems to have an echo in Hope’s tendency to see an overlay of lines on what she’s looking at, which then allows her to calculate things. The skills are two entirely different things, though. I feel like Hope turned into something of a special snowflake as the novel progressed, and that rarely works well.
Speaking of borrowing things from other sources, there’s a direct analogue to Outlander in this book, one that doesn’t become clear in that series until around four books in. Because this plot point comes almost halfway through the Outlander series, I don’t want to name it here, but those who have read the books will certainly recognize what I’m talking about.
I guess what it really boils down to is that much of what makes up this novel has been done before in various forms, and done better. It’s not a horrible book by any stretch of the imagination, but as I said earlier, it’s on a less advanced level than I expected. As an introduction to the genre to younger folks, I might recommend this, but I don’t think it’s going to please those who have read time travel stories widely. The publisher really shouldn’t have played up any similarities to Outlander, because it suffers in that comparison.