Time Rogues by Kay Austin
(Love Spell, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-505-52621-2
***
Kay Austin has a great plot premise in Time Rogues, a time-travel story that takes readers back to Pompeii just before Vesuvius exploded in 79AD. What keeps this book from recommended status is the confusing world-building that accompanies it, which often pulled me right out of the story.

Mackenzie Cates is in line for the directorship of the Dallas Museum of History, and the new exhibit on Pompeii might swing things in her favor. One of the highlights of the exhibit is the castings of several people who died in the eruption. Mackenzie’s former lover, Rick Mason, a noted archaeologist working on the Pompeii dig, created these castings. In fact, when Rick left for Pompeii five years earlier, it spelled the end to their affair. Mack has never forgotten Rick – nor forgiven him for breaking her heart. Now Rick is returning to Dallas to lecture on the Pompeii antiquities, and it’s inevitable they’ll meet.

Mack is stunned when she reaches out to gently touch the casting of a handsome man one night and it appears to move. Though she’s unwilling to have much contact with Rick, when they finally meet up again, she can’t resist telling him of her experience. Rick insists on seeing the casting for himself. What they don’t know is that the casting is not a Pompeiian at all, but a time-traveler named Dak who was trapped in Pompeii on the day of the eruption. Dak’s body was destroyed, but his spirit is intact, and he needs to inhabit a human form in order to guide his rescuers back to Pompeii. When Rick touches the casting, Dak has his chance.

Dak is a member of the Time Rogues, a group of specially-trained people who travel through time to ensure that events in one time don’t cause catastrophe in another. Their leader is Charlie, and they live in The Core, which I think is located at Earth’s core, though this was one of those confusing parts I mentioned. Charlie has finally located Dak, his partner and friend, and can now send someone back to retrieve him, as well as the slave girl with whom Dak had fallen hopelessly in love. The agent assigned to the case is Maude, a new graduate. Maude, Dak, Charlie, Mackenzie, and Rick will have to work together on Dak’s rescue, to prevent disaster in the present time.

Mack and Rick still love one another, and their romance is part of the story. Maude wants to prove herself. Dak wants to get out of Pompeii intact this time, with his newfound love at his side. Charlie wants to see his stubborn buddy return in one piece, and fix the apparent rift in the time continuum that Dak’s headstrong actions have caused. Mackenzie has the problem of never knowing when it’s Rick she’s dealing with or Dak. There’s a lot going on. Add to this the inconsistent world-building of the author, and readers may be scratching their heads in places. Terms like “stasis lock” and “time rift” are tossed in, but without enough initial explanation to make the reader understand what the heck they mean. The Core is hinted at, but hard to visualize.

The novel takes on an added dimension when the group travels back to Pompeii. Here the author does a fine job of detailing the sights and sounds of an ancient Roman town. It’s evident that Ms. Austin did some research. And Mack and Rick’s romance was well-constructed.

But without a better understanding of how the time-travel functioned and where the Time Rogues came from, it was hard to be fully engaged by this book. I almost had the feeling that the entire time-travel element came from another manuscript, and was wedded to a modern romance for some reason, perhaps marketing. The two didn’t seem to meld well.

Time Rogues could offer an interesting series setup. History is littered with fascinating disasters and events that could provide a framework for other novels. But readers will need more development of the Time Rogues concept first. It will be interesting to see where Kay Austin takes this idea. In the meantime, readers who enjoy time-travel romance might find this to be an exciting trip.

--Cathy Sova


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