[Dara] hadn’t paid attention to where she was going, and, when she did start paying attention, she found herself coming to the end of a darkened corridor. She had a feeling that it was supposed to be off limits, but there was no sign telling her to stay out. Therefore, it had to be okay. Just before the corridor ended, she came to a door that opened to steps leading down into a basement.
Awfully dark down there, she thought. Again, though, there wasn’t a sign that stated “keep out” or “danger.” Must be okay. She saw a light switch and reached for it. A flash of light, heat like a flare, a sound like the crack of lightning and a gigantic seam ripping, and Dara fell down the stairs. She rolled at the bottom and fell onto the floor.
She was dazed but not quite unconscious. The dust she stirred up upon landing made her sneeze and cough. She winced as she tried to get up and reached out to where she thought the stair bannister was. Her hand grasped it, and she dragged herself closer to it. The door at the top of the stairs opened. Her head hurt. She thought she had already opened the door. She wondered if it had closed behind her when she fell. A woman appeared at the top of the stairs. Light from behind her outlined her silhouette.
“It’s all right, Mrs. Newton. I think it was just a rat,” the woman said to someone behind her. “I’ll go down and check that it hasn’t caused any trouble.”
Dara falls down stairs in 2014 and wakes up in 1908. Agnes is surprised to find a mysterious, dark-skinned woman in her basement, but she’s a practical sort and takes it all in stride, even when it transpires that her visitor is from the future. As the two women share a bed — and increasingly begin to share their lives — it becomes clear that a century’s time difference is no barrier to love.
I think it’s important for anyone picking up this book to understand that Andre is a romance novelist: this is a romance novel with a time travel conceit, rather than a book about time travel. Concepts such as paradoxes and changing history are nodded at, but not addressed — the present-day protagonist, Dara, is very genre-savvy, and even Agnes in 1908 reads The Time Machine for research, but neither woman really understands how the time slips work. There’s a mad Edwardian scientist who has a theory, and some steampunk-esque devices that allow him to measure the atmospheric changes associated with the slips; his method is shown to have some predictive power, but that’s as far as it goes.
The historical detail, on the other hand, is beautifully done. Most of the story takes place in 1908, and there are various little touches that really bring the setting to life. A quick fact-check confirms that the author is spot on about everything from the availability of aspirin to the pieces performed at Prom 24.
Dara naturally finds life in the early 20th century quite different to 21st century Chicago, and this new world is not without its challenges, particularly for a black lesbian. Back home she’s been out for years, and was engaged to her girlfriend, until Jenny was killed in a tragic accident. In 1908 she’s already a novelty for her skin colour, and although she shows photos of Jenny to Agnes, she shies away from explaining the nature of their relationship. And at a variety show, the offensive minstrel act sends her running from the theatre.
For her part, Agnes got into trouble withher father after he caught her kissing a girl, and although her parents have since died, she hasn’t had another partner. She falls quickly in love with Dara, but she’s too afraid of losing her friend to confess her feelings.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book, despite the lightweight treatment of the science and the occasional line of clunky dialogue. Agnes and Dara were perfect together, and I enjoyed the way they were challenged by their different backgrounds and the unusual circumstances in which they met.