Almost an Angel

Some Like It Hotter

A Willing Spirit

 
Another Dawn by Deb Stover
(Zebra, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-8217-6100-5
***
This time travel starts with an unusual twist when the hero is juiced in an electric chair just as a bomb goes off. Quite an explosive beginning to a tale that ranges between invention and emotion, but somehow manages to just miss the mark. Deb Stover's talent as a time travel "technician" is indisputable: she carefully crafts the space and time twists and turns that can make or break a time travel plot. But in Another Dawn, these devices serve merely as bookends to the bulk of the story, which unfortunately, falls rather flat.

Luke Nolan is an innocent man (of course) who has served eleven years in solitary for a murder he didn't commit. Moments before his execution at the hands of a sadistic warden who is panting for "justice," Luke catches a glimpse of the doctor assigned to pronounce him dead. She is crying. Having been abandoned by his family and experienced no sympathy in over a decade, Luke is floored by this show of emotion. Moments later, just as the warden throws the switch, bombs planted by anti-death penalty advocates explode.

When he awakens, Luke has been fried to a sunburned state, but is very much alive. The rubble and bodies surrounding him attest to the fact that the bombs did their job – they put an end to the execution (although the twisted logic behind killing a room full of innocents to stop the execution of one is never explained satisfactorily). Quick to seize upon the opportunity to escape, Luke dons the clothes of the priest lying dead as his feet and prepares to flee. Then he hears a groan. It is the doctor, who has also survived.

With the memory of her tears still fresh in his memory, Luke aids the young woman and the two make their way out of the wreckage of the remote mountainside prison facility. Outside the cave of rubble, Luke is surprise by the desolation of the place, and that lack of any emergency personnel given the grim outcome of his "execution." But in a state of near panic about escaping, Luke doesn't stop to ask too many questions. He drags the doctor, identified only as "Sofie" on her ID bracelet, toward what he believes will be civilization.

That turns out to be Redemption, a small Colorado mining town circa 1891. The "priest" and doctor are granted entrance to the town despite a smallpox quarantine. It doesn't take Luke long to figure out that something very strange is going on. Sofie is suffering from amnesia, and though she realizes that many of her shadowy memories don't match up to the things she is seeing in Redemption, she never questions her whereabouts. Once Luke realizes that they have indeed traveled back in time and that he is safe from the long arm of the law, his elation is boundless.

Trouble is…the "priest" soon develops quite a thing for the doctor.

Luke's growing feelings for Sofie leave him desperate to keep her from regaining her memory. And with his mask as Father Salazar firmly in place, he is loathe to do anything that will reveal his true identity. Sofie sees shadows of her past and is attempting to recall who she is, while simultaneously fighting what she deems an illicit attraction to the handsome man who saved her life.

Despite having been told of her profession, Sofie hardly shows a knack for doctoring. In fact, she doesn't show much of a knack for anything. Sofie is not nearly as well drawn as Luke; she's a rather placid character who takes things way too easily given the state of her scrambled brains. She takes the frontier mining town environment for granted, along with the presence of smallpox and gun-toting lawmen. Even when her few memories don't jibe with what she is seeing, she never questions any of it. The reader just never gets as close to Sofie as they do to Luke. In fact, the author concentrates so heavily on his internal conflicts that we feel we know him inside and out. So it is primarily through Luke that the reader experiences the electric sexual tension that exists between him and Sofie.

When the proceedings bog down in the middle of the book, it has less to do with character than plot devices. All of a sudden the pages fill with secondary town folk clamoring for attention. And although these events have their points (evidenced in the book's final chapter) they do slow down the action.

But like I said, author Stover bookends this story with exceedingly inventive time travel ploys. I'll say nothing except that I found the conclusion original, if a little vague, but basically satisfying.

--Ann McGuire


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