Ruby Red, by Kerstin Gier (Henry Holt 2011, YA, 336 pages)
16-year-old Gwyneth lives with her mother and siblings on the top floor of the family's ancestral home in London. Living beneath them in grand style are her grandmother, her aunt, and her polished and beautiful cousin Charlotte, the special one, the one the family assumes has inherited the family ability to travel through time.
But it is ordinary Gwyneth who finds herself time-travelling, and who finds herself in the midst of a conspiracy stretching back centuries--a secretive organization of Guardians wants Gwyneth to fill a crucial role in their machinations. Plunged into mysteries, caught between two different factions among her time-travelling kin, and accompanied in her time-travelling by the insufferable (but very handsome) Gideon, Gwyneth must decide (with too little information to make it easy) just whom she can trust.
This is great fun! The twists and complexities of the plot make for fast reading--along with Gwyneth, the reader has little clue at times what's happening in the larger scheme of things, but things roll along nicely before too much doubt creeps in (sometimes I have doubts when reading about centuries-old mysterious cabals of mystic-ness, but not here; at least not until I closed the book). And in large part this momentum comes from Gwyneth. She's a great narrator--matter-of-fact, observant, and entertaining.
Those who read time travel stories for the excitement of exploring the past won't find that emphasized here. Time-travel, in Gwyneth's world, is controlled by a device operated by the mysterious society. Her first few solo timeslips are the classic "gah I'm in the past and totally unprepared and what the heck do I do experiences," but once her family finds out what's happening, the Guardians determine the location and time period of her travels (giving the wardrobe folks the opportunity to prepare suitable clothes). It also helps make time travel less awkward for her that she's mainly meeting her own family, or members of the organization--no pesky explanations needed!
Anyway. Like I said, it's great fun, it's fast, and and it will (probably) leave you wanting the sequel (it had something of the same feel to it as, for instance Paranormalcy, by Kiersten White). It may also leave you annoyed with the sexist pig Guardians and doubtful about the way Gideon's eyes are described (I am tired of boys with exceptionally lovely eyes).
Ruby Red was written in German (that's what I thought was the German cover at right, but it's actually the Norwegian one...). The translator, Anthea Bell, is the same one who did such a good job with Inkheart (she's also the translator of Asterix--here's an interview with her in which she talks about that).
I don't know if I would have picked up on it if I hadn't known the author was German, but Gwyneth reminded me strongly of a German girl who was my best friend years ago, more than she reminds me of my English friends and relations. Did anyone else feel the same thing?