An unlikely twist of fate connects a British World War I soldier and a young woman living in modern-day England in this debut novel.
Lt. Robert Lovett is a dedicated British officer fighting in World War I. He is also a talented artist; his paintings depicting the realities of war are selected for a major exhibition. But by August 1916, his future as a soldier and artist is in doubt. While recovering in Coldbrook Hall Military Hospital in Sussex from injuries sustained during the Somme campaign, he is diagnosed with hysterical blindness. More than a century later, in 2017, Louisa Casson is admitted to Coldbrook after a drunken mishap on the Sussex Downs cliffs is mistaken for a suicide attempt. While exploring an abandoned wing of the building, Casson hears a man crying for help and enters Lovett’s room. At first, she believes he may be a patient who thinks he is a World War I soldier or that he is “a product of her anxious, agitated mind.” Eventually, Casson discovers the deserted wing is a portal to the past. Lovett regains his sight and they fall in love but they are separated when he rejoins his regiment. Desperate to find him, Casson returns to the past as a nurse. When she learns the shocking truth about their fate, she races to find Lovett before they are separated forever. Taylor’s accomplished, genre-bending book succeeds as a historical novel and a beguiling, time-travel romance. Casson and Lovett are appealing protagonists whose relationship is the story’s emotional center. They are surrounded by a well-developed supporting cast, including Kerry, Casson’s confidante, and gallery owner Edgar Brocklebank, Lovett’s friend and mentor. The sharply written narrative deftly moves back and forth between the past and present as Casson tries to learn more about the circumstances that led her to Lovett. Their realities are vividly rendered and their individual tales could stand alone as separate narratives. In particular, Taylor’s depiction of Lovett’s and Casson’s wartime experiences is unflinching but never gratuitous (“If the war didn’t want you, that didn’t mean you’d struck lucky: it meant you had missing limbs or eyes, were paralysed by spinal injuries, or mentally ill with shell shock—or permanently disabled from the inhalation of poison gas. What sort of future awaited men like that?”).
A poignant and stirring love story that should appeal to fans of historical and fantasy fiction.