Perhaps my experience is atypical, but most of the time travels I've read have involved 20th century folk traveling back in time. That can be a lot of fun, but a change of pace is always welcome. In the case of The Moonstone, the 14th century travelers are transported to the 20th century with results that consistently tickled my funny bone…always a good omen.
At age 28, Sir Niall of Mallory has sustained injuries that prevent him from continuing his knightly career. Now the archbishop of Cantlecroft employs him, and one of his less pleasant duties involves escorting condemned prisoners to the executioner.
Today's prisoner is Viviane, a young and unusually attractive witch. Disconcertingly, Viviane greets Niall with a smile, confident that once the archbishop hears her story, she will escape her unjust fate. Niall tries to disillusion her as they walk from her cell to the courtyard where she will be executed, but it is not until she enters the courtyard that Viviane believes him.
In despair, Viviane asks Niall to put the moonstone her father gave her into her hands so that she can make a last wish. He does so, and she makes her wish, "I wish that I were as far away from here as ever a person could be." Almost instantly she is transported to 1999 and Salt Spring island, one of British Columbia's Gulf Islands.
Meanwhile, back in Cantlecroft in 1390, the archbishop has set Sir Niall the task of retrieving Viviane. Niall is humiliated by Viviane's escape and determined to redeem himself in the archbishop's eyes. He suspects that he probably has the means to do so. Viviane dropped her moonstone when she was transported, and Niall guesses correctly that he can use it to follow her.
The differing reactions of Viviane and Niall to Salt Spring island kept me chuckling. Back in merrie olde England, Viviane earned her living by copying romances to sell in the markets, and her subject matter strongly influences her view of the strange world in which she finds herself. She is convinced she has traveled to the island of Avalon -- "the home to all immortal beings weary of the world and its ways" -- and that its inhabitants are sorcerers, pixies, and fairies. She attributes the functioning of the modern conveniences she encounters…a toilet, for instance…to magical manifestations.
Niall, on the other hand, is a hardheaded, practical man with no belief in the supernatural. He discerns the hand of man in the functioning of the same toilet and promptly tinkers with it until he figures out how it works.
Both Niall and Viviane are charmers -- Viviane thinks that Niall "obviously belonged in the sunshine" and, in equally sunny fashion, she characterizes herself as "luckier than lucky" -- and Cross has found a suitably lightweight conflict to dog these two up-beat lovers. Niall must return Viviane to Cantlecroft to fulfill his pledge to the archbishop and redeem his honor while Viviane is convinced from the first that he has followed her out of his love for her. The resulting misunderstandings add to the fun.
Cross has used her time travelers to satirize the 90's types they encounter on Salt Spring island. There is the aging hippie, the tough-talking older woman, an astrology buff, and a numbers-cruncher, never far from his computer. They are comic characters, no doubt, but Cross has the knack of making her characters likeable even as she mocks them gently.
The weakest part of The Moonstone was its ending. While Niall and Viviane were adapting to the 90's, all was not sweetness and light back in Cantlecroft. Cross had left a number of loose ends back in 1390, and her efforts to tie her story lines together and wind everything up were altogether less satisfactory than her modern episodes. Ending aside, however, if you are looking for a little light-hearted escapism, I recommend The Moonstone.
--Nancy J. Silberstein