Two time-traveling students encounter intrigue and danger in Napoleonic Venice and beyond.
Segrave (Memoria, 2012) drops readers straight into the goings-on of her previous novel, finding graduate student Violet Tenet and her sultry boyfriend, Tom Fielding, not only dealing with but talking about the events that concluded Memoria. Those events center around time travel, a phenomenon made possible by a gadget invented by Violet’s grandfather, Alistair Edward Craig, an erratic, forgetful (and perhaps ultimately sinister) figure from the first book; here, though, he’s given more depth and humanity. Via time travel, Tom was rescued from death at the Napoleonic Battle of Corunna and brought to Wildewood Hall, Craig’s idyllic country seat. Tom initially finds it confusing, but, as Violet assures him, “It doesn’t matter where or when you were born. All that matters is who you are now.” As the novel pings back and forth through time, Segrave handles the action and intrigue as deftly as she handles the dialogue, which is always sharp and sparkling. The intricate, fast-paced plot contrives to separate Tom from Violet, Violet and Tom from Craig, and all three from their time gadget, the “homing device” and “redial” of which present additional complications. Fortunately, Segrave orchestrates it all with considerable skill and humor. Violet anchors the book: Witty, spirited, smart and adaptable, she deals with the numerous plot twists—and villains, who are often revealed with an appealingly old-fashioned relish—without panicking or relying on the menfolk. When Tom abruptly disappears from her embrace, she determines to find him and ends up with her grandfather in an 1809 “Venice with no T-shirt shops.” An occasional spellcheck-eluding typo—i.e., “lightening” for “lightning”—mars the narrative, but by far the biggest obstacle to readers’ enjoyment is the necessity of reading Memoria first. Segrave valiantly tries to insert helpful exposition wherever possible, but the delightfully breakneck pace of her narrative works against her, and as the story builds to its blizzard of a climax, there’s hardly time to sit and reflect.
Newcomers may be baffled, but readers of Memoria might cheer out loud.