Reviewed by: Pete Barber
Genre: Historical fantasy/Science Fiction
Approximate word count: 85,000-90,000 words
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Jill Rowan lives in Shropshire, England. The Legacy is her debut novel.
Fallady Galbraith feels her life is going nowhere. So, when the woman who ran the orphanage where Fallady spent her childhood dies and leaves her a cottage in rural Wales, she takes a chance, leaves London and moves in. When she awakes on her first morning in the cottage, a matronly cook is preparing breakfast on the woodstove in the kitchen while the woman’s husband is clearing the garden. These two turn out to be ghosts of a sort, and when Fallady tries to learn more about them, she finds herself sucked into their time-warped world.
Some stories are easily categorized; this isn’t one of them. I empathized with Fallady when I was first introduced to her, living and working in 2012-London, full of self-doubt and dissatisfied with her lot in life. Joining Fallady on her journey to the Welsh cottage and experiencing her discomfort with the locals and her trepidation at living alone miles from nowhere in an old cottage with erratic electrical supply was fun and believable. The two ghosts were an interesting and unexpected twist.
On a personal note, if I found someone to cook and clean and tend the garden for no payment, I’d be more excited about the prospect than Fallady appeared to be. In fact, I’d try my best to make sure they never left J. However, that wouldn’t make much of a story, so I don’t blame her for trying to find out who they were and why they existed.
Fallady’s investigation leads her to the remains of the local village that was destroyed by an earthquake in 1796. While nosing around the ruins, she falls through a wormhole and lands in a snowdrift in 1776.
About half of the story takes place in 1776. Fallady, a feminist and atheist, is taken in by the village pastor. The story focusses on her attempts to function in technologically-primitive Welsh feudal society. On one hand, I enjoyed seeing the eighteenth century through her eyes, on the other, the willingness of the locals to accept her modern ideas, speech, and ways, often stretched my sense of disbelief. Overall, though, this segment of the story worked for me, and I enjoyed it.
When she and the pastor fall though another wormhole and return to 2012, the reversal—seeing the twentieth century through the pastor’s eighteenth-century eyes—didn’t work so well. Mainly, I guess, because I had to learn about the eighteenth century, whereas I know what a computer and a car look like, so it wasn’t possible for me to engage as though I were seeing them for the first time.
Also, the explanation for the time-warp (details avoided to prevent a spoiler) didn’t work for me. It seemed a little trite and too convenient.
So, as I said to open, this is a difficult story to evaluate. Jill Rowan’s writing is clean and well structured, especially for a debut novel. Fallady was a well-drawn character and her love affair was tenderly treated. I didn’t skip-read, except for the short section with the pastor in the modern world, so the story kept me engaged. But there were too few surprises and too little tension. The main characters knew what would happen (because of time travel) and mostly fulfilled their predestined lives, and the ancillary characters, in both eras, seemed to accept ghosts and time travelers with little surprise or doubt.
Perhaps the cross-genre nature of the story: historical fiction (including a love affair that has to negotiate bustles, stays, and men’s wigs), but also sci-fi/fantasy with time travel and some elements of parallel existence, is too big a challenge. I struggled to get engaged with the sci-fi (because that’s closer to my sweet spot and I’m more knowledgeable). And, although I enjoyed the eighteenth century scenes, I wonder if those readers who love historical fiction might find them unsatisfying?
Rating: *** Three stars