Taking Time by Lynn Abbey
Ace / Penguin Putnam PPBK: ISBN 0441011535 PubDate: 03/30/04
Review by Edward Carmien
336 pgs. List price $ 6.5
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This third book in Abbey’s contemporary fantasy series landed on my desk and proved to be a surprise. I hadn’t been aware the series existed until that point in time, and as Lynn Abbey is A Really Important Person in the history of American Fantasy, it behooves me to have at least heard of such things.
For those of you not in the loop, Abbey co-created Thieve’s World, a series that broke new conceptual ground and started the “shared world anthology” concept, examples of which can still be seen today.
While the book is promoted as “fantasy” there are some odd details: the cover includes photographic (or at least “photo-realistic”) elements, and the storyline has a romance-novel flavor. I suspect the average fantasy browser would be put off by the former—it doesn’t “look” like a fantasy novel—while the latter shouldn’t put anyone off in the least.
Emma Merrigan is an experienced hand at the psychic game she indulges in. University Acquisitions Librarian by day, curse hunter by night, Emma has an apparently genetic skill to wander a common dreamscape and even time itself in search of psychic ills to purge. These curses, left to themselves, can develop into truly frightening beings, and so the work she does, along with the work of the Curia, is a necessary element of humankind’s well being.
Earlier novels apparently described how Emma came late to her psychic skills, but readers should not worry too much about finding the earlier books in the series if all that is available is Taking Time. As I am usually fully pledged to the “only in proper order” rule, this flexibility indicates not only that Abbey provides enough background information not to lose her reader with characters and settings from earlier books but that she does so in a way that does not impede the reader with blocks of catch-up text.
In Taking Time Emma reunites with her mother, partially recovered from being a casualty in an earlier story and explores her powers in greater detail. She also learns more about the Curia, an organization of similar curse-hunters. There is a curse she needs to moot, powers to explore, and a relationship to define with the Curia in this novel, and Abbey manages all tasks with aplomb.
Some might question if this book is really a romance novel with fantasy elements or a fantasy novel with some romance elements, but I’m solidly in the latter camp. While the beginning especially reads a bit like a romance novel, the overall structure of the novel owes more to the thriller and/or detective/mystery genres. As I argue elsewhere, this is a sign of greater and greater collusion between what are traditionally separate, even antagonistic sub-genres of literature. Romantic Literature is a term I’d like to revive, even if mentioning it requires immediate clarification that by Romantic I mean literary Romantic, not bodice-ripper romantic. By Romantic Literature I mean to include all fiction that includes fantastic or imaginative elements, fiction such as science, fantasy, mystery, detective, horror, thriller and yes even romance fiction.
This is pertinent how, I hear you ask? Because these, as they are generally termed, sub-genres of fiction contain common elements that appeal to readers in general (if not in detail—diehard SF fans don’t stereotypically gobble up romance fiction, for example) it is easy to see why today more and more such fiction shares (or steals, some might say) structural elements from other sales categories. C. Dale Brittain’s Daimbert is a classic detective, for example, despite the fact he’s a wizard (and the examples are endless).
All this is a complicated way of saying: recommend this novel to anyone you’d like to lure to the fantastic. The field in general has enjoyed a large increase in titles and sales during the past two decades—keep up the trend by sliding this series to someone you know favors, say, romance novels—and see what happens. The fantasy is strong enough for fantasy enthusiasts—but this novel, with its strongly realized characters and lovingly detailed settings (it is set in Michigan—I’m from Michigan—I know what a good job Abbey has done in this department) would serve as an excellent introduction to fantastic fiction in general.
Perhaps this is what the book designer had in mind with the photo-realistic cover. Perhaps not. In any case, this is a good read in general and a great book for those who enjoy strong, with-it female characters, and fantasy elements with a contemporary setting. It is a series novel, so don’t expect a huge problem-solving climax—but since it is series fiction, do expect characters with a story to tell and the structural real estate to let that story play out during the course of more than one novel. This is easy to do poorly—but from innovator and expert craftsperson Lynn Abbey, this works. Enjoy.