Fated Memories by Joan Carney is an interesting delve into the past thanks to a simplistic time travel device and characters who yearn to be back in their own time.
It’s a relatively simple plot – Kitty and Maggie inexplicably find themselves transported back in time to 1861 – the time of the American Civil War. Without knowing how they got there, or more importantly, how to get back, they enlist as nurses at an army camp which gives them food, shelter and a degree of protection.
Although they often seem to wallow around a bit waiting for things to respond to rather then trying to actively deal with their predicament, Joan writes with an easy style which keeps the reader engaged and interested in what’s happening – and what will come!
A large element of Fated Memories devotes itself to the day to day living experiences within that compound – some pleasant, and others harrowing, and this is where the main thrust of the novel lies; in how Kitty and Maggie come to terms with their new temporal location.
Many time travel novels involve characters being thrust into another era who then need to deal with finding a way back or getting on with things. Fated Memories has a bit of both – the lack of knowledge of how things happened and the uncomfortable environment they find themselves in brings an intense internal conflict.
At times Kitty and Maggie make temporary plans with an eye on the near term future (for example, getting things to eat and a place sleep) to a longer term view as their prospect of return becomes increasingly bleak. Soldiers around them help them settle in, and for the most part are respectful and friendly (complete in one case with a proposal). That said – this duo could look after themselves pretty well!
Fated Memories is very well written. Joan writes smoothly with sentences which somehow give more information and feeling than at face value. No, I don’t know how it’s done!
What I really like is that every now and then there’s a small section with a couple of paragraphs which describe conditions or feelings then we’re back to main story line. These small sections are almost like an aside or a semi-running commentary or something. It’s a powerful writing technique which I’ve not seen before – and don’t know why not!
At times I was reminded of Marlys Millhiser’s The Mirror – not in the negative way in that I didn’t enjoy it, but in the way that Kitty and Maggie seemed to resign to being in the past and just got on with things. This is predominantly a destination novel where the focus is on what characters do once they’re done with time travel (rather than the ‘journey’ novel which focuses more on the time travel mechanics and time machine side of things).
But where The Mirror is dull and misses several time travel opportunities, Joan keeps things active in Fated Memories – not necessarily through time travel related mechanics and paradoxes, but with active comparison between the past and present, complete with frustration of life threatening changes in medical practices. (Actually in this last respect Fated Memories has a huge amount of medical information. It doesn’t come over as contrived, but as natural thought processes that Kitty and Maggie have as trained nurses. I thought it was really well done!)
I wouldn’t normally include a “Genre” section, but whilst reading through Joan’s website regarding the front cover (which I’ll come back to in a bit) I thought I’d write a few thoughts here.
Joan describes Fated Memories as science fiction because time travel isn’t possible. I think this is a fair point to make, although personally I subscribe to Asimov’s description of a science fiction novel being one in which science plays a central role, i.e, if the science was taken out then the novel would no longer make sense. In this latter sense, Fated Memories isn’t science fiction.
OK, so Fated Memories contains no science, but it does make use of a phenomenon which for now has not been scientifically realised and therefore remains within the (science) fiction camp…!
Time travel romance?
Where there is no scientific content, Fated Memories picks up on character development. Indeed, Kitty and Maggie are characters who for the most part seem to be driven by their love interest.
That said, I’m not sure if Fated Memories comes in as a romance novel either – there is a love interest and a heavy emphasis on relationships, but I’m not convinced that this is the main thrust of the plot. Certainly it’s a strong back-drop and motivation (or induced behaviour) for much of what Kitty and Maggie do.
I’m not sure what “chick lit” is (or even if it’s an offensive term), but Fated Memories, especially at the end, starts to drift into what I imagine romantic fiction geared towards ladies would be like.
For me the ‘give away’ is that whilst Kitty and Maggie are well developed characters, the male characters are superficial at best. This may be a little unfair to point out because in other novels with mainly male characters the reverse can often be said for the female participants in the plot. But where I can imagine a “hot girl” quite easily, when Simon’s described as “hot” I draw a blank. Then again, I don’t want to read about rugged looks or tight buns or whatever, so I suppose that’s a good thing.
Ultimately, I just don’t know who he is and what he really thinks about things. Where the “hot girl” in the male dominated novel is often there to support the big boobs, Simon (and others) are around in Fated Memories to be either the knight in shining armour or the dragon.
Towards the end of the novel Kitty was winding up in an unrealistic soppy love story with too many conveniences and people to help her out. It’s very cuddly, goody goody and drives the point home that everyone lives happily ever after.
On the time travel side of things, there’s a huge explanation of what I thought was pretty obvious, but admittedly perhaps this is justifiably toned down for a non scientific novel. That said, there’s potential for a paradoxical twist regarding time travel which never came, though by this stage I think I’d probably bought into the chick lit thing – I wanted the happy ever after bit.
Mission accomplished, I guess!
Kitty, Maggie and Simon end up travelling back in time to 28 June 1861 which is commensurate with Simon’s memories…of the American Civil War.
By now I’m sure you’re already aware that I’ve got no knowledge of history so it’ll come as no surprise that some names (e.g. Commander Biddle and Colonel Kane) meant nothing to me. Come to think of it, I don’t even know if they’re not supposed to mean anything to me… But I should mention that I don’t think my lack of historical knowledge detracted from novel (unless Simon was a well known and famous chap and I was expected to have known about him, thus negating the need to provide some deeper character building for him…).
Kitty and Maggie had a few deep conversations about philosophical approaches to war which I found interesting. For example, ethics are called into question when as nurses they end up caring for wounded ‘enemy’ soldiers. Effectively, this means that a wounded enemy can be brought back to health so they then get to have another shot at killing you later. Killing someone presumably means winning the war? It’s insanity – and as Kitty and Maggie note, these men just wear different colour clothes and stand on the other side of the line.
It’s a good point: caring for the wounded is not crazy, but often war is.
Time travel aspect
Time travel isn’t really a large part of this novel other than it was used to transport the main characters back in time. The time travel element mostly comes into play not through the mechanism or paradoxes, but more through a description of the past through the eyes of Kitty and Maggie who have a modern perspective.
The time ‘machine’ is simple and necessarily black box. It has an interesting trigger mechanism which I won’t reveal here. It does the job and basic though it is, I was happy to note that there is consistency in its operation and how it’s capable of transporting more than one person at the same time. (“At the same time” – is that even relevant with a time machine? 😉 )
One of my pet peeves with unwilling or unknowing time travelers is that a huge amount of time spent is often spent in confusion after the trip to the past (or future). That is the case in Fated Memories although I’m going to forgive Kitty and Maggie here because of Simon’s previous interest in historical reenactments which blurs the distinction between past and present. It’s a nice new angle which gives credence to the confusion and disbelief, and adds a layer of depth to the new setting the time travelers find themselves in.
Whilst the story line is a little slow at times, Joan keeps the characters treading water by taking opportunities to wander around the area in that time. For example, Kitty and Maggie go off to get dresses tailor made which means that they get to meet the temporally indigenous people. Whilst it didn’t move the plot forwards these kinds of events provide interesting insights into the destination side of Fated Memories.
There are other indications that we’re reading a time travel novel; there are frequent links back to the present with references to old houses which now look new, for example, or to local history, how a pinafore got its name, etc. – these things mercifully aren’t done explicitly, but gently and surreptitiously through observations made by the characters.
There’s one scene which had me in stitches – Kitty swears in front of men who are shocked because women don’t use such language in this time. A cover up story is made hastily – she has tourettes and needs a smack in the mouth to shock her out of it(!) Later, Kitty swears again so a soldier raises his arm as he’s about to hit her as prescribed – but Kitty gets in first; she hits him and warns him not to try it again – and walks off swearing under her breath!
At first I read this as Kitty being a leopard who can’t change her swearing spots (as well a lady who could look after herself in a male dominated setting) then I got to thinking that maybe we are just tied into our times just as we are with our spatial location – we have a language and a culture which take their roots from where we grew up. Usually.
A couple of final points
The butterfly effect
The front cover of Fated Memories shows a butterfly on a watch.
This makes it fairly clear that this is a time travel novel, and indeed there’s a discussion on Joan’s blog where Joan explains that “The butterfly is taken from chaos theory and represents the possible damaging effects a time traveler might have on the future. It is not meant to be whimsical.”
Indeed, within the novel there’s mention of the butterfly effect. I particularly liked how it was handled at the end by mentioning that the effects of actions in the past, if any, weren’t known. Realistic, and fits with the tone of the novel – perfect!
The end of the novel made me raise my time travel alert eyebrow. This is the eyebrow over the eye beneath it which sees a phenomenal opportunity to go time travelling and curls upwards in mouth watering anticipation. But in Fated Memories this route isn’t taken.
Having found the mechanism behind time travel, Kitty, Maggie and companions lock the time machine away. Why? Why not make the most of it? Or is the point that they are now in the happy ever bit and don’t want to change anything?
Maybe this scientific curiosity / opportunity is another difference between a science fiction novel and novels in other genres.
Summary and Rating * * * *
Fated Memories is a well written and interesting exploration into the times of the American Civil War seen through the eyes of Kitty and Maggie. Surviving as nurses they see the harsher sides of the war, although a romantic light shines its light into the novel. Frequent comparisons between the duo’s past and present keep the time travel theme alive, though as is fitting with the flavour of the novel, there is no hard scientific content.
All in all, an enjoyable read!
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Disclaimer: Joan kindly sent me a free copy of “Fated Memories” to read in exchange for honest review. This is it!
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