Alice Payne, daughter of an impoverished landowner, and part-time highwayman, gets away with her latest robbery. But then the victim … disappears? Where to, and how? And, most important, to when?
I’m not a fan of time travel stories. They all face the same issues of paradox and causality, and few of them handle it well. And most would-be period literature tries too hard and falls flat. With Alice Payne Arrives, I took a look at the chapter titles – that so wanted to be fun – and cringed. And yet, Kate Heartfield largely pulls it off.
I say ‘largely’, because the book ends in the same tangled morass that most time travel stories wander into. It is, at the least, poorly explained. Up until then, however, the book works very well. The characters are engaging and interesting, the time travel mechanics are clear, and the story moves forward with energy. There was a place midway through when I began to lose interest, but it seems to have simply been a rough patch, because the story quickly picked up again. It’s also not until quite late in the book that some key plot points are explained. Had they come earlier, I might have slid right past that rough patch.
The editing is occasionally odd; there are seeming non-sequiturs sprinkled throughout the book. Not entirely out of place, but floating disconnected from the prose on either side. Heartfield also displays a disingenuous literary arrogance in using words without much context — an “Oh, doesn’t everyone know what a redingote is?” that’s irritating, but happily not frequent.
This is the first in a series, as is clear from the ending; this story line resolves, but it’s clear that there’s more to come. Why this novella wasn’t simply published as part of a larger novel isn’t clear. I’m not sure I’d read the second part – that whole time travel morass – but I’ll definitely keep my eye open for other work by Hearfield.
28 April 2019 Science fiction | Kate Heartfield | Alice Payne |