As I’ve read more and more time travel romances, I’ve come to realize that frequently there is a time bomb waiting to explode in the heart of the plot. The time travel itself usually works. However, if the author wants to sustain the story so that it reaches full novel length, she has to include some other plot elements. It is those other elements that tend to explode on the author or…even worse…fizzle out. For an example, consider Dee Davis’ The Promise.
Cara Reynolds is a 21st century artist who has recently returned to live and paint in southwestern Colorado. She has also opened a gallery in the nearby small town of Silverthread. Michael McPherson is a rancher, with a spread near Silverthread, but the year is 1888. These two, Cara and Michael, are powerfully drawn to each other, traveling willy-nilly across time when one or the other is in danger.
The first episode of time travel occurs on Cara’s 16th birthday. She and her parents are involved in a horrendous automobile accident. Cara is thrown clear of the car, but her parents are killed and she is left unconscious in the snow. Nineteen-year-old Michael finds her before she dies of exposure and takes her to shelter in a nearby mineshaft. He cares for her through the night, but when he goes for help in the morning, Cara is returned to her own time and they are separated.
Nine years later, it is Michael in trouble and Cara to the rescue. On his way back to his ranch from his herd in the high country, Michael is shot from ambush. To continue on toward the ranch house will expose him to the shooter, so he takes refuge in the same mine where he sheltered Cara so many years earlier. Cara finds him the next morning, but it is the next morning in the 21st century.
Once Cara manages to help Michael back to the cabin she has inherited from her grandfather - he’s a big guy - he insists that she remove the bullet from his shoulder rather than letting a doctor do it. With no argument at all, Cara agrees. Is this likely? Would you, or any other sensible person living within an easy drive of trained medical help, agree to remove a bullet from someone’s shoulder? I don’t think so. I would have liked an authorial explanation of why such an extreme action was necessary, but none is ever put forward. Michael doesn’t want to see a doctor, so Cara removes the bullet. Successfully, I might add, another logical stretch. I would have made a dog’s dinner of the procedure.
Once I got past the unlikelihood of Cara’s do-it-yourself surgery, I thoroughly enjoyed Michael’s introduction to modern Silverthread and his sudden understanding of where…or rather when…he is. From Michael’s perplexity over the plastic of a pill bottle to his disconcerting visit to modern Silverthread - recognizable but fundamentally changed - to his appreciation of modern hot showers, all his encounters with the 21st century are fun.
Michael’s adventures in the 21st century are told alternately with the story of his brother, Patrick, left behind in the 19th century. The day after Michael disappears, his brother finds their father, a silver prospector, shot to death near the ranch. A great part of the story, in both centuries, concentrates on who is behind the attacks and why the McPhersons are threatened. Unfortunately, this part of the story is weak. I guessed who the attacker was the first time he was introduced, and I guessed at least part of the mystery surrounding the attacks. This is bad news; I am a miserable guesser. If an author can’t fool me, she probably won’t fool anyone.
The Promise is one of few time travels I’ve read where the paradoxes of time travel crop up. Most authors avoid such paradoxes by making sure their time travelers never meet their ancestors or their descendents; Ms. Davis does not. Then, having posed a time travel paradox, Ms. Davis fails to straighten out the resulting Mobius strip. All the reader gets is a quick glimpse of a changed future in the epilogue.
Dee Davis is a competent writer, and her settings help sustain interest in the story. The scenes set in the silver mine are especially effective. There is also a sweet secondary romance to bolster the main story. All in all, despite the fizzle caused by a less than puzzling mystery and some head scratching brought on by the implications of time travel, A Promise delivers a pleasant reading experience.
--Nancy J. Silberstein