Wednesday Review – The Time Baroness by Georgina Young-Ellis

You’d think, it being Christmas week, that our MWiDP Reviewer in Residence Gerry McCullough would be taking a break, but not  a bit of it.  In the early hours of Christmas Day morning she was hammering at my door with the latest review in her hands, and what a Christmas present that turned out to be! Talk about “just what I always wanted”!

Well, some of that’s true. I haven’t had a chance to read The Time Baroness myself yet, but as a big Jane Austen fan it’s been sitting on my Kindle taunting me a while now, and I’m really looking forward to it. Especially having seen what Gerry has to say about it.

As I’m nearly running late with this post I’ll hand over to Gerry now to avoid further delay. Here’s Gerry.

 

The Time Baroness by Georgina Young-Ellis

 reviewed by Gerry McCullough

 

Calling all Jane Austin fans!

(Of whom, I may say, I consider myself one of the most serious.) I first read Pride and Prejudice at the age of nine, borrowing my sister’s copy and reading it in bed at night when I was supposed to be sleeping. I’ve no idea how many times I’ve read it since then, but enough to make it essential for me to take a break at three or four different times, and stop rereading it for a good number of years, until it became less over familiar. And, of course, I’ve read all the other books, plus her juvenilia and unfinished and unpublished works, her letters, and many different Lives, as well as seeing numerous films, stage plays, and TV adaptations.

So when I first read some of The Time Baroness on Authonomy, my interest was sparked straightaway. And now, reading the whole, and much edited, book, I’m really impressed.

Georgina Young-Ellis has written an amazing story, half historical fiction and half science fiction. Unusual or what?

Cassandra Franklin, to give her the name the heroine uses throughout the book, has always dreamt of living in Jane Austin’s time, of experiencing what it was really like to be alive in the period of the Regency in the early 19th century in England.  Something lots of Jane Austin fans would love to do, no doubt. But for Cassandra, because she lives in 2120, when time travel has become a reality, the dream can actually come true. And so, with Cassandra, we step through the portal, and emerge into the dark evening streets of London in January 1820, just round the corner from The White Hart – and the story begins.

Georgina Young-Ellis has achieved two very different things here. Both, I would imagine, equally hard, and both requiring considerable research.  The first is to make the ‘scientific’ part of the book believable. I’m no scientist, but it seems to me that she has managed this really well, especially in the later part of the book where Cassandra returns temporarily to 2120 to gather up equipment for a very important jailbreak.  The various new technological achievements available to her are described realistically and in a way which rings true. We feel that possibly in another hundred years or so at least some of these tools may have been invented.

The second is to make Cassandra’s time in 1820 as accurate as possible. Here, I would claim a little more expertise; and although possibly not quite everything is exactly right, so much of it certainly is that the reader is happy to sink into the life of the period and simply enjoy being there.

Not only is the book set in the Regency (by Cassandra’s deliberate choice, three years after Jane Austen’s death – she can’t risk disrupting any of the writer’s life by impinging on it, and possibly spoiling something which she has written by changing Austen’s experience) – but the plot is also very much of Jane Austen’s type.

There are only a few pieces of fast moving action, although those are gripping. Otherwise the action moves fairly slowly, and is mainly character based. Cassandra’s first meeting with Benedict Johnston manages to send prickles up the reader’s spine. This is clearly going to lead to something. Their relationship is beautifully developed, and for most of the rest of the book we are aware of the difficulties as Benedict himself can’t be, and as Cassandra of course is; and we are left constantly wondering how this can possibly be resolved in any way which will feel satisfactory. 

Enough to say that Georgina Young-Ellis resolves the problem unexpectedly and successfully, leaving us happy with the outcome. And moreover when we look back we can see that the seeds for this development were cunningly planted in various ways from the start of Cassandra’s adventure, and in the fact that she left out an important part of her pre-arranged story when telling Benedict why she had left America, and that therefore the subject of slavery was not, in fact, discussed between them at an earlier stage. For if it had been so discussed, before their relationship had moved so far, the outcome might have been very different.

The major characters, especially Cassandra, are well drawn, easy to relate to and full of life. They develop as we get to know them through the various scenes and conversations. The minor characters also (and the book is full of them) come to life easily, and Lady Charles in particular shows her true character more and more as the book goes on. Interestingly, Cassandra is fairer in her view of this lady than we, as readers, feel like being, and rightly gives her credit for seeing the truth, when as readers we simply want to say, ‘What a horrible woman!’

The scene where Cassandra helps a farmer’s wife, the local ‘midwife,’ with a birth, is particularly well done. This, of course, is not something which Jane Austin would have written about, but the experience brings us, and Cassandra, closer to the realities of life for the ordinary woman at that time than anything else we are shown.  The tragedy and the realism of how she deals with the problems of the birth, taking place without the help of modern medicine, are both moving and enlightening.

The brief meeting between Cassandra and Jane Austen’s sister, also called Cassandra, is another strikingly well done scene. It makes us remember, with a shock, that Cassandra Franklin doesn’t belong to this time, for after nearly a year of living her life with her as an early 19th century woman we, like Cassandra, have almost forgotten that this is not her normal environment.

If you like Jane Austen (or even if you don’t particularly, but do enjoy time travel) this is a book you shouldn’t miss. Original, expertly done, fascinating – and thoroughly recommended.

Gerry blogs regularly over at Gerry’s Books. And if you like her reviewing style you’ll love her books.

Her debut novel Belfast Girls is available on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk. Her latest novel Danger Danger is of course also available on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

If you’re reading this Wednesday evening GMT then no links working and not many images. Sorry! Disrupted net service all day and I’m rushing this through now to meet my Wednesday deadline, with a net speed that makes dial-up look like warp-speed. So the links will be updated asap. Or if you’re desperate to buy The Time Baroness just use the serach engine in your preferred ebook store.

I’ll just end by saying I never had the pleasure of reading Austen for pleasure until rather late in life. Sadly I was first introduced to Austen through a very incompetent English teacher who put most of the class off the classics for life, so I’m deeply envious of Gerry first discovering Austen at nine.

Though I’m not sure I would have appreciated the finer points of Pride and Prejudice as a nine year old boy, so maybe that was for the best. Although I did read Little Women at about that age, so maybe I would have.  Who knows…

But in the spirit of time travel and Austen, why not go back in time to when you first discovered Jane Austen and tell us all about it in the comments.

 

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  1. Like you, Mark, I was forcefed Jane Austen through school and university and therefore despised her work. Then I saw the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice and it awakened a nascent love for all her works… so much so I joined the vast online JA Army and we have done much to celebrate her qualities. She will always be my favourite classics writer.

    • P&P is now by far my favorite of JA’s works, Prue, and while I generally don’t miss TV here, I do long for the occasional classic adaption.

      Must say I find Austen’s absence of strong child characters a downside to her works, and that’s why Charlotte Bronte and Louisa May Alcott will remain top of my list.

      With the classics now free to e-read (as opposed to more expensive in paperback than a top-name modern-day best-seller in the UK) I hope all the classics will reach many readers previously disinclined to try.

    • Miriam Joy
    • December 28th, 2011

    Well, I’ve never been forced through Jane Austen, in that we’ve never had to study it. However, I read Sense & Sensibility and detested it. I just spent so long reading it – it took me at least three days, and that’s long for me – and then the ending was just like, meh. I didn’t care. I felt really cheated because I wanted something to actually happen and it didn’t. And I never wanted to read anything else of hers again.

    • Ms. Mim, you are hereby ordered to download a free copy of Pride & Prejudice on your Kindle and devote however long it takes to reading it. Not all “classics” deserve that accolade, but Pride & Prejudice is certainly one that does.

  2. This book is a pure delight. You will think you have traveled back in time. The textures, the tastes, the sensations. I highly recommend it.

  3. Over here in the USA, I miss on the school force reading of Jane Austin. I remember Charles Dickens, which I didn’t really mind. Having grown up with out TV, books were already my friend by then anyway.

    But, after hearing about Jane Austin so much I finally read Pride and Prejudice not more than year ago. It came free with my Kindle for PC app. I’m now planning on getting the whole collection of her stories (as well as Charels Dickens, Shakesphear, and Jules Vern) for my Kindle.

    Of course finding the time to fit in some reading with my writing and the rest of my life… That’s going to be the tricky part.

    :} Cathryn

    • That’s a HUGE problem, Cathryn. Suddenly the free books alone are more than enough to occupy several lifetimes. I’ve got P&P sitting on my Kindle along with numerous other classics I’d love to read again.

      But you end up like the proverbial child in a candy-store, mesmerised by so many choices, and knowing as soon as you make your choice and start one book, something else will appear on a blog or in a chart or on a free list that you want to read instead,

  4. What a great conversation about P&P and Jane Austen! Sorry I didn’t join in sooner but I’ve been traveling. Thanks, Gerry, for the grat review and to everyone else for the nice comments!

    • Was wondering where you’d got to, Georgina!

    • I enjoyed your book very much, Georgina, as I’ve said. I hope it does really well for you. It certainly should do. What I meant to do by mentioning Jane Austen was to encourage people who are Austen fans to read The Time Baroness! Hopefully that’s how it will work out!

  5. Georgina was probably time traveling.

    • Lee
    • December 30th, 2011

    I’ve always loved Jane Austen. Was introduced to it in college. But I’m a American from California, maybe I don’t know any better, considering our greatest cultural gift seems to be the Kardashians.

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