Jen Holling offers readers an absorbing and imaginative debut novel with A Time for Dreams. Audrey Williams first visits Drochaid Castle as a ten-year-old while visiting Scotland with her parents. On a tour of the castle, she notices a long, torch-lit corridor that nobody else appears to see. Impulsively, she walks away from the tour group and down the corridor, finding herself in the past. A boy of about sixteen approaches. She notices his red hair and green eyes, then he asks who she is and why is she dressed so strangely? Audrey, nervous, makes to return to the corridor, but the boy tries to grab her and ends up yanking her locket off. Audrey returns to the present day, finds the tour group, and is astonished to see her locket lying in a showcase of jewelry belonging to the Countess of Irvine, from the sixteenth century.
Audrey returns to the castle sixteen years later. She’s now an armed forces security specialist, widowed by her husband’s suicide, and she’s been haunted by dreams ever since her first visit to Drochaid. Dreams in which a handsome man with green eyes tries to tell her something and a woman in rich dress is beheaded. The dreams are getting worse, more graphic, and she is filled with a building sense of dread. Returning to Drochaid seems to be her only hope of ending the dreams.
The corridor is still there. As Audrey steps through it, she’s back at Drochaid, in the year 1570, and the green-eyes man soon finds her. He’s Brenden Ross, and his dreams have been just as haunted for sixteen years. Obviously he was meant to find Audrey. But what is she? A witch? No matter. She’s coming with him and they’ll sort it out on the way.
Audrey soon finds out that Brenden is involved in a plot to rescue Mary, Queen of Scots, from her imprisonment at Fotheringhay castle. Her husband, the Earl of Bothwell, is already doomed. Brenden wants to see the queen safely to France. Audrey knows how this will end -- Mary will die, and is obviously the woman in her dreams. Will Brenden die, too? And if she stays in the sixteenth century, will her own life be endangered as well? Audrey knows she can’t change history, but perhaps if she goes along with Brenden, she will somehow be a key to saving his life. Plus, she’s falling in love with him, as he is with her. She’s already lost one husband to violence. Will she end up brokenhearted, four hundred years from home?
The author does a fine job of presenting a fictionalized account of the time leading up to Mary’s execution. All of the major details are kept correct, and the insertion of Brenden and Audrey into the story doesn’t seem improbable or intrusive. Neither does Ms. Holling try to sanitize the events. Scotland at this time was turbulent and bloody, and it’s reflected in the descriptions of such things as Bothwell’s imprisonment and death, and Mary’s resigned acceptance of her fate. Every friend could also be a foe. Virtually nobody could be trusted. Against this setting of intrigue and lies, Audrey and Brenden make their painful way toward a lasting love.
The characters of Brenden and Audrey were handled skillfully. Brenden is torn between his love for Audrey and his devotion to his queen. Audrey is strong and opinionated, but also smart enough to keep her mouth shut and her eyes open when she doesn’t fully understand the ways of sixteenth-century life. I did wonder a bit at her initial acceptance by the castle staff -- her accent wouldn’t have been English, and passing herself off as English might have warranted her a trip to the dungeon, but I didn’t spend too much time pondering it. The story was moving right along, and I didn’t want to be left behind.
A Time for Dreams is an impressive debut. This kind of intelligent time-travel, with a complex plot, truly conflicted characters, and a vivid historical backdrop, is just what the genre needs.