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Heaven's Time

Untamed Time by Susan Plunkett
(Jove, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-515-12447-8
"We went from being bombed in Bolivia to being clueless in California." That's how Captain Rafe Stricter and Sergeant Craig Blackstone, Army Rangers, describe their predicament. What they don't immediately disclose is that they've also gone from 1998 Bolivia to 1847 California . . . Sutter's Mill, to be exact.

In 1998, Rafe and a wounded Craig are trapped in a Bolivian cave, knowing that the Army is about to bomb their location, thus eradicating a drug lab. At the moment that the bombs are dropped, Rafe prays that Craig's life is spared. When he and Craig miraculously awaken, neither is immediately aware that it's California instead of Bolivia, nor do they know that they've gone 150 years back into the past.

In 1847, Lorilie McCaully, one of the Gifted, is being pursued by the evil Ketchums. The Ketchums have already killed Lorilie's grandfather and are now stalking her, intent on stealing her grandfather's gold and gang-raping her. They fear her because of her 'specialness,' but they plan on marrying her to one of the idiot sons, knowing that she'll be available whenever any of them feel lusty. Rather than submit to them, she jumps from a cliff into the river below, eluding them . . . for now. She makes it to one of her hidden sanctuaries, where she falls into a dreamless sleep. When she awakens, she's got two modern-day visitors.

Rafe and Lorilie circle around their attraction to each other, basically unwilling to form an attachment. Rafe wants to return to his time. He's a trained soldier and misses all the weaponry. Lorilie, who abhors killing, is unable to understand why this man is so willing to dispose of obstacles by eliminating them.

Untamed Time is plot-driven, rather than character-driven, which worked for me. It was difficult to sustain an interest in Rafe and especially Lorilie. Rafe's character is easier to understand, considering that he has twentieth-century roots. Lorilie is one of the rare Gifted ones. Her gift is that she can communicate with animals. Imagine Rafe's disbelief as he watches Lorilie frolicking with grizzly bear cubs while Mother Bear looks on beatifically.

Basically I didn't like Lorilie. While I wouldn't go so far as to say she's too stupid to live, a term we on email discussion groups refer to as TSTL, her pacifism is too hard to believe. The Ketchums have killed her grandfather, made her life miserable, killed her animals, plan on having communal sex with her and what does she do? She begs Rafe not to harm them!

It was from that point on that I mentally began to call her Pollyanna Pacifist. Lorilie is going to save the day by throwing herself at the mercy of the Ketchums. Once they have her, Lorilie knows that those dastardly villains will leave Rafe, Craig and Marica Thorne, a healer, alone. What some might think of as a noble sacrifice just seemed asinine, imprudent and selfish rather than selfless. Did she really think that the three involved would welcome her sacrifice? Go along with it? I couldn't decide if this idea angered me more or insulted my intelligence.

While their mis-communication is funny at first, it rapidly lost its humor. Rafe senses that Lorilie has been the object of scorn and is afraid to trust easily. He questions,
"You've been burned in the past, haven't you?"
"No." Mystified, she examined her arms. "These scrapes and scabs are from climbing a cliff, not a fire."

Lorilie's stilted dialog kept slowing me down. "The land is not your enemy, Rafe. It is beautiful unto itself. Can you not feel the harmony it vibrates?" When she's looking for watercress and Rafe mentions that he likes it, she replies, "I was unaware you are fond of it. I will gather a good quantity."

What sustained my interest in this story is the plot. Curiosity got the better of me. I wanted to see what would become of the Ketchums. With Rafe's hands tied as he tried to honor his promise that he wouldn't kill them, how would the author give us a credible solution? Also, there is a more believable secondary relationship between Marica and Craig, with more emotional pull than the romance between Rafe and Lorilie.

Reading romance books give me my greatest reading pleasure. When a romance is more interesting because of the plot rather than the characters, then I can't recommend it. A friend summed up my dilemma nicely when she commented that apparently this story just didn't grab me.

--Linda Mowery

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