Still on my fiction set in Elizabethan times kick, I wasn’t sure what to make of this book at first. I think the clichéd title worried me. It tells the story of the wonderfully named American, Dougless Montgomery, who is holidaying with her boyfriend (and she hopes, though it becomes rapidly apparent God knows why, soon to be fiancé), Robert, and his precocious and horribly spoilt teenage daughter in England. Meant to be the trip of a lifetime, within pages, things rapidly deteriorate between the couple and flashbacks indicate that Dougless’ dreams of an overseas holiday and a proposal of marriage are far from the reality of her situation or relationship.
Left stranded in a church in a small village after being accused of all sorts of poor behaviour and intentions, Dougless weeps by the altar of long-dead Earl, bemoaning her situation, revelling in her misery but nonetheless with the optimism that the reader soon learns characterises this increasingly endearing if somewhat feckless young woman.
Lo and behold, a knight in shining armour literally manifests before her and what started out as a story about a grossly mismatched couple turns into a time-travelling tale about a seemingly mis-matched couple. Given little choice but to help this out-of-time Earl, Nicholas Stafford, Dougless learns what she can about his place in history discovering his philandering and generally poor reputation, a reputation that at first appears deserved, but the more time they spend together, the more Dougless realises that history has been unjust to her knight. Determined to help Nicholas change the legacy for which he’s remembered, and to understand why he was accused of the things that destroyed his family name, she discovers a traitor in the Stafford mix – but what use is the knowledge if she can’t alter the outcome?
In order to make a difference, Dougless must take an enormous risk and an extraordinary leap of faith and, lately, her faith in men has been severely compromised. But time with Nicholas has changed Dougless and she is no longer the woman she once was – but even with her new-found strength, can she change the course of history?
And what about her feelings? Will she sacrifice what could be for the sake of cultural memory? These questions and more pepper the second half of the book and make for quite a page-turner.
I have to say, Deveraux has done a grand job of time-travel and romance and not since Diana Gabaldron have I enjoyed the concept so much (Oh, hang on, I also loved The Time Traveller’s Wife, but that was different). Lighter in touch than Gabaldron, Deveraux brings a great deal of humour to the notion of a Sixteenth Century knight in the 1980s and there are some genuine laugh out loud moments, but without compromising tenderness or the core of the story, and still managing to tug at the heart-strings. I also enjoyed the fact that this book didn’t try and do big picture stuff – eg. Quuen Elizabeth and all the huge personalities and figures and plots that surrounded her reign. It really was about Nicholas, Dougless, Robert and intimate relationships – about family, soul-mates, love, compromises and what’s important to sustain feelings. Even so, it does hover around the edges of emotional and psychological abuse and gender subordination within relationships as well, which gives it a depth that enriches the narrative.
Overall, I found this hard to put down and thoroughly enjoyed the historical detail that Deveraux was at pains to present but without spoiling story.
A delightful time-travelling romp for lovers of romance and lighter historical novels.