"Gwyneth Shepherd's sophisticated, beautiful cousin Charlotte has been prepared her entire life for traveling through time. But unexpectedly, it is Gwyneth, who in the middle of class takes a sudden spin to a different era! Gwyneth must now unearth the mystery of why her mother would lie about her birth date to ward off suspicion about her ability, brush up on her history, and work with Gideon, the time traveler from a similarly gifted family that passes the gene through its male line, and whose presence becomes, in time, less insufferable and more essential. Together, Gwyneth and Gideon journey through time to discover who, in the 18th century and in contemporary London, they can trust."
Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier
My reaction: It didn't take me long to get caught up in the fun that is this book! I noticed right away that it has a British touch to it which is handled quite nicely — I'm not sure if that's the translator's doing or the author's, but either way it managed to use enough British expressions to keep the reader grounded in the setting without overloading them with so much jargon as to make it incomprehensible. (Plus, I learned that skipping a class is called "bunking off," which just sounds so much more awesome.)
The tone of this novel is light and charming, and it's easy to breeze through (I read it in about a day's time). Generally the writing has a bit of an old-fashioned feel, even during the modern-day sections. The dialogue for the teens isn't always the most authentic (they're all very polite and well-behaved for the most part), and yet — perhaps because of the London setting — this didn't really bother me much. (Maybe British teens really do talk like that, what do I know?) There is plenty of mystery, lots of hints at secrets and such, but it always maintains an entertaining vibe, never taking itself too seriously.
It does take a bit to get going (the prologue will confuse you entirely, but it becomes clearer after you read some more) and the faster-paced sections were the parts where they traveled back in time. The modern scenes were a bit slower, as they mostly involved information being revealed (in fact, there was one chapter that I felt was a rather heavy "info-dump"). I did find it somewhat irritating that a lot of knowledge is withheld from Gwyneth, and thus from the reader, without a good explanation as to why. Secrets are kept from her (and then gradually revealed) by characters who appear to be on her side and really don't have a sound reason for not telling her sooner about matters that involve her.
Gwyneth's voice was a bit inconsistent for me, as I found that she sounded a little younger or a little older than sixteen at various times. I had a few problems with her character (discussed below) but her heart is in the right place, and she does have a good sense of humour. Indeed, I found myself laughing out loud at various lines throughout the novel. There are many side characters to swell out the cast, and while it might be a bit difficult to keep them straight at first, several of them are quite memorable and distinct. Great-aunt Maddy is particularly hilarious, and Madame Rossini is spot-on in her role as the almost caricature-ish French fashion designer.
I enjoyed the back-and-forth between Gideon and Gwyneth as they attempt to annoy each other. Gwyneth's attraction to Gideon is believable; he may be arrogant (okay, there's really no "may" about it) but he understands his responsibilities and does his best to keep Gwyneth safe. I was less convinced of the interest on his side, since for most of it he appears to think very little of her (more than once making it obvious he believes her to be shallow and a burden on the mission) and I think his opinion changed a bit too suddenly for my liking. Still, I did think they were awfully cute together and I'm certainly looking forward to seeing their relationship develop further in the next one.
Best aspect: I found the background created for the Guardians — things like the significance of the number 12 and the connection to the philosopher's stone — delightfully intriguing. I also really enjoyed the scenes where they traveled back in time; there was usually bound to be some action happening whenever they did! It was fun to imagine Gwyneth and Gideon in their old-fashioned costumes. Actually, the whole time-travel gene set-up was quite creative. Interestingly, the gene makes it necessary to travel back in time a certain amount (and if you don't time-travel under your own control, using a chronograph, then your body will make the decision for you — and then who knows where you might end up?!)
If I could change something... To be honest, certain aspects of Gwyneth's character annoyed me. Just about all of her relatives seem to think she's not very bright, and she appears to accept this as part of who she is. She doesn't seem to care about improving her knowledge, even of the time travel matters she's been caught up in, instead leaving the research (which mostly means Google searches) to her friend Lesley. It was this apparent apathy, more than her lack of book-learning prowess, that frustrated me. I did sometimes have to agree with her relatives, since Gwyneth was on a few occasions slow to catch on to things I'm sure the reader could follow just fine (and even worse, she has no qualms about pointing it out). She takes affront at Gideon's implications that she's ditzy/shallow/ignorant, and yet she doesn't try very hard to disprove them. However, I felt like at other times she was selling herself short in the intelligence department. There seems to be a bit of character growth starting towards the end, so I'm hoping that continues in the sequel. I'd like to see her mature, becoming less self-focused and embracing her time-travel ability (she sometimes comes off as a bit whiny about it). I'm hoping she'll be more active in the next book, taking the initiative rather than letting things happen to her and others decide.
Also, a warning right now — the ending will leave you hanging completely! If you're like me you'll have a ton of questions that aren't answered. Unfortunately it does leave it feeling like an uncompleted story arc — it just sort of ends in the middle of all the build-up. But I suppose to a certain degree the tactic worked, because it also left me wanting to get my hands on the next one to find out what happens and how everything ties together.
In five words or less: a rollicking time-travel romp!
"You'd think that would have been forgotten long ago. But no, no sooner has a little grass grown over it than some clumsy camel comes along and rakes it all up again."
Caroline giggled. She was probably imagining Aunt Glenda as a camel.
"This is not a TV series, Maddy," said Lady Arista sharply.
"Thank goodness, no, it isn't," said Great-aunt Maddy. "If it were, I'd have lost track of the plot ages ago."
Read if you liked: Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough
Final verdict: 4 shooting stars. Who doesn't want to imagine dressing in fancy gowns, traveling back in time, witnessing sword fights and talking to your now-dead relatives? Just be prepared for an abrupt ending that leaves you with plenty of questions.
And if you haven't seen the trailer, check it out:
Disclaimer: I received a copy of Ruby Red from the publisher for review.