Newcomer Karen White has crafted an intriguing tale of love lost and re-found in another place and time. In the Shadow of the Moon is the story of Laura Truitt, told in first person. Laura's idyllic marriage to Jack and her happy life in an antebellum Southern house with a distinctive past are shattered when their 23-month old daughter, Annie, disappears one night as they are all watching a lunar eclipse and comet on Moon Mountain. No trace of Annie is found. Laura only knows that some powerful force, something cold and threatening, swept over her just before Annie disappeared. In the ensuing five years, Jack took up flying as consolation and was killed. Now Laura is a widow at twenty-eight, and she is determined to keep searching for her missing daughter.
Another eclipse, and a different comet, draw Laura back to Moon Mountain one night. Again, the same coldness washes over her and she passes out. When she revives, a strange dog is licking her cheek, a small boy is running from a panther, and a man in buckskins saves them all with a well-placed shot. Laura is still in Roswell, Georgia, but she's landed in the middle of the Civil War.
Laura's savior is Stuart Elliott, a man looked upon with distrust by many of his neighbors because his brother is fighting for the Yankee side. Stuart takes Laura to the house in Roswell where she says she lives, but it's no longer her house. Instead, it's inhabited by Stuart's very pregnant sister-in-law, Julia, and her two children. Julia takes Laura in, believing her tale of amnesia. Soon Laura is enmeshed in the household, trying to find Annie, and fighting an attraction to the enigmatic Stuart. General Sherman is on the march, and Laura knows that Roswell lies smack in his path. How can she save these people, without being hanged as a spy?
Karen White lists as her influences Margaret Mitchell and Diana Gabaldon, and Shadow of the Moon is a worthy tribute to those authors and their works. This is a multifaceted story, with much more going on than just a time-travel romance. Stuart, the Southern sympathizer who hates slavery, is a study in contradictions. His gentlemanly efforts to keep his hands off Laura contrast sharply with his suspicions of her. How does she know so much about the movements of General Sherman? Why is she so insistent that the family be taken further south -- for their own safety? These nagging thoughts, so at war with his emotions, make for a vivid portrayal of a man who can't resist the woman who may be his downfall.
Laura fares well in her role of fish out of water. She's smart enough to know when to keep her mouth shut, for the most part, and strong enough to interfere when it's needed -- as in the birth of Julia's child, where she insists the doctor wash his hands and stares him down until he gives in. Her search for Annie will bring her to some startling discoveries, and a painful choice, even as her love for Stuart blossoms.
The secondary characters flesh out the novel well and help to carry the plot forward at a steady pace. The only bump in an otherwise smooth path really lies with the prologue, which sets up the time travel element. Here we are introduced to Laura, follow Annie's disappearance, and experience Jack's death. It's all done very quickly, and it left some unanswered questions. The five-year gap between Annie's disappearance and Jack's airplane crash was problematic for me. Why were there no other children? What was their relationship like? Readers are told that Laura loved him passionately and never believes she'll love again, but I didn't really feel it, since Jack was disposed of in just a page or so. And since it was the bedrock on which the rest of the story was based, it made for a tenuous opening
However, the rest of Shadow of the Moon is a well-crafted, absorbing story that deserves Recommended Read status. Kudos to Ms. White for hitting a solid triple her first time up at bat. It will be interesting to see what she comes up with next.