The Urban Dictionary defines an “outlander” as:
Any individual who does not belong in a social setting; an intruder; an interloper
But for readers of time-travel romance, using the subtitle “An Outlander Love Story” as Gwyn Cready does on the cover of Timeless Desire, and specifically setting that romance on the Scottish border in the early 1700s, is bound to invoke comparisons to Jamie Fraser and Clare Randall.
Search Google for “outlander”, and Jamie Fraser’s name comes up as a related search, along with Diana Gabaldon (duh), the unrelated 2007 movie, and the Mitsubishi SUV.
But the heroine of Timeless Desire is Panna Kennedy, not Clare Randall. She’s a librarian and not a nurse. A time-travelling librarian who is the heroine of a romance novel. Okay, I was hooked from the description right there.
Totally incapable of an unbiased opinion, mind you, but completely hooked.
Panna thinks, acts and sounds like “one of us”. Us librarians, I mean. Her budget is being slashed, her staff is under-appreciated, her library is underfunded, and as much as she loves being the head librarian in a small town, occasionally she wants to escape.
Mostly she escapes into a good book. Her husband died two years ago, and she still hasn’t gotten over it. Panna’s spirit of adventure seems to have died with him.
Until she goes searching through the under-basements of the library for something to sell. Something that might keep the budget axe from chopping quite so close to the bone. And she sticks her hand through a locked doorway and into blackness. Not darkness. Blackness like her hand has been cut off, except she can still feel it, she just can’t see it.
She pulls it back like it was on fire. But the fire is back in her soul. She has to see what’s on the other side of that formerly locked door. Was it real? Is she crazy? Why is it there?
There’s a statue in front of the service desk in her library. Colonel John Bridgewater, the founder of the library, or at least the funding angel. (One gets the distinct impression that the statue, albeit fully clothed, is nearly anatomically correct–Panna has certainly fantasized about Bridgewater often enough!)
Panna goes back to the library in the evening and steps through the door into nothingness. She finds herself in the 18th century. What’s more, she’s in England, on the Scots border. She can see Hadrian’s Wall. The library she left behind was in Carlisle, PA. In the USA.
The first person she meets is Colonel John Bridgewater. In the very warm and living flesh. And he thinks she’s a whore. Not to mention a spy. It’s not a very auspicious start to their relationship.
And what a relationship it turns out to be. Nothing on the Scots borders is ever simple. John Bridgewater is the son of two countries. His father is an English Earl and commander of the English forces on the Border. But John was forced to make his own way in the world, because his father neglected to marry his mother, who was the daughter of a Scots clan chief. John’s loyalties are divided.
Each side is sure he must be a traitor. All he wants is peace. Or at least, less pointless bloodshed.
He sees Panna as either an angel or a temptress. John makes Panna feel alive again. But as they drag each other deeper into the tangle of secrets and lies, he discovers that she is telling the truth, and that there is more danger in the knowledge she holds than he ever imagined.
Escape Rating B: There are two ways of looking at this story. One is to attempt to consider how it works on its own merits, and the other is to look at how it deals with the long shadow cast by Diana Gabaldon’s classic tale, Outlander.
Timeless Desire is a solid time-travel romance. Panna’s desperation to solve the budget crisis was very real, and rang true (Been there, done that, and I’ve known too many library folk in that same boat). Her grief over her late husband also “felt” right. Everyone grieves in their own way and time. Going back in time, while contrived, made for a terrific adventure. It shook Panna out of her rut in every way possible. Fighting for your life will do that. And because the circumstances were extreme, falling in love happened fast and hard.
It was easy to get caught up in Panna’s story.
On the other hand, the title invokes one of the truly great stories, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, and that’s a dangerous comparison to make. Jamie Fraser is positively beloved. The two romance heroes whose names I wouldn’t get near with someone else’s barge-pole are Jamie Fraser and Roarke. Naming another Scots hero Jamie in a time-travel romance is simply bad juju. IMHO.
There were a few too many times when I read a scene in Timeless Desire and knew what was going to happen because either the same thing had happened in Outlander, or it happened before but with an opposite twist. (Spoiler alert) For example, the wedding was in extremely similar circumstances, although Bridgewater was not (thank heavens!) a virgin. The ending worked opposite but had a lot of similar characteristics. In this case it depended on who had a home to go to in which time.
As Outlander-lite, Timeless Desire works very well.