A Once and Future Love was my first time travel romance. Based on it, it will not be my last, nor will it be my last book by Anne Kelleher. It had three big strengths separate from the things that have kept me reading romance on and off.
First, a didn’t want to toss my eReader due to blatant ignorance of history. Nothing glaring jumped out at me as wrong, although once or twice my thoughts ran to, “Are you sure this fits in the first half of the thirteenth century.” Even more outstanding, in my mind, was the author’s avoiding things “everybody knows” that are at best gross generalizations and at worse, out and out wrong. That her characters did more than bathe twice in their life, at the baptism and at their death, is the example that jumps out at me, although in an odd twist, it doubles as a source of an “are you sure” point with bathing in winter.
Second, Kelleher handles the language barrier in a realistic and rarely used manner. Straight science fiction time travel stories rarely do as well as this book. The main character, Richard, is a twentieth century born attorney thrust into a world where Middle French is the common language. The author gives him a small step up with half-remembered high school and college French. In addition, she gives him an injury that excuses him from speaking much for the first quarter to third of the book. Despite these advantages, she still shows a struggle to learn the language and uses the enforced listening learning by immersion requires to fuel parts of the story. She uses the times he reverts to modern English, unrecognizable to mid-thirteen century Norman nobility, as a clever plot device.
The third thing, and one I want other authors to take notes on, is she avoids Richard becoming a savior from the future when interacts with historical events. Given the latter half of the novel has him as a vassal to William the Marshal during the events leading up to Runnymede, the Magna Carta is a huge event in the book. I would be easy to have an American lawyer in the royal court leading up to the events take them over and have a reveal that he wrote it. The plot avoids this trap by having the main character be present, but in a subordinate role. The only false note is Richard’s lack of knowledge of the disagreements and events that led to the Magna Carta. He was less familiar with then than I am. Given the prominence it holds in the common law and among American lawyers, the American Bar Association built the only major public monument at Runnymede in 1957, his ignorance rings false. That remains a minor note. When the American lawyer could have created the revolution English law that led to the US Constitution the same way Marty McFly used his knowledge of later music to create rock-and-roll, I enjoyed the light touch when the author demonstrates restraint.
As for the romance, it has an interesting tact. Our protagonists are married at the beginning in a political marriage. When Richard returns to the past to replace a dying knight, we get the tale of a man trying to win over a woman who thinks she is already his wife and none too happy about it. The reaction to the vast changes in the man from the initial point lead to the external conflict of the last third of the book organically. Romance can often be a narrow channel for a writing to swim. A Once and Future Love provides a creative twist on the expected tropes.
For a new romance reader and a first time travel romance reader, the novel hits all the points I expect. As a history buff, with Plantagenet English as a major interest, it rings true. It is a good book, and a recommended read.
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