I have heard that there are people out there who don't like time travel stories. A quick google search confirmed this impression--time travel books are "unreliable" "inconsistent" and "unrealistic." "I don't like time travel stories," writes one reader google found for me here, who then goes on to say, "Aside from that, no complaints."
So I feel a little awkward labeling Once a Witch, by Carolyn MacCullough (Clarion, 2009, YA, 292 pages) as such, and turning all those readers against it. To them I say, there's very little time traveling, you'll hardly notice it, the time travelling is every bit as realistic as all the other fantastical stuff that happens....but it's Tuesday, and I needed a book for Timeslip Tuesday, so here we are. And for those who really love time travel books qua time travel books, you might enjoy it too. Even though there are only 47 pages (give or take) set in the past...
Tamsin belongs to a clan of witches, and has grown up in an enclave of magic, surrounded by aunts and uncles and cousins who can all work enchantments of one kind or another. One of the most powerful of her generation is her own sister, Rowena, who can mesmerize others...but Tamsin has no talent, and feels like a fish out of water. When an absent-minded professor comes to the bookstore where she's working, and asks her to find a lost clock, in that special way members of her family can do, her frustration comes to a head and she finds herself taking the job.
Now, back at school in New York, Tamsin is stuck with a job she can't do--but fortunately, her cousin Gabriel is back in her life, and he is a Finder par excellence. Together the two travel back to the 19th century, to find the clock before it was lost...but in taking it back to the present, Tamsin has unwittingly tampered with the very magic that keeps her family safe. For the absent minded professor is not at all what he seems to be. And neither, for that matter, is Tamsin herself.
It's a very entertaining story--not too tremendously deep, and at times perhaps too self-consciously YAish with its little touches of clothing angst and the like--but a good, fast read. Tamsin's magical family provides a fun backdrop for her adventures, and her own journey of magical self discovery, and her re-discovery of Gabriel, held my interest. Danger, Romance, Magic, Family Secrets, a Big Sister who's too much to take, and a smidge of Blood. And there's the time travel bit, to add even more interest...so all in all, a fun book.
The time travel is all plot device, and not a thing of interest in itself, in the way some time travels are--the cultural disconnects and self-discovery through alien time immersion sort of thing (that make those of us who love T.T. love it) aren't here. But it is used very crisply to move the story along in an interesting way, and that's just fine.
Just because it's nice not to feel alone, I add that Leila at Bookshelves of Doom had much the same reaction (and I think it was her review, now that I read it again, that made me put this one on my list).