I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Weighing Shadows by Lisa Goldstein
Published by Night Shade Books on November 3 2015
Genres: Adult, Science fiction
Buy on Amazon
The nitty-gritty: A time travel story with loads of potential and an important message about feminism, which could have benefited from more editing.
I’m always up for a good time travel story, and Weighing Shadows seemed like it was going to be a good one. And it was—to an extent. There were many things I enjoyed, and I thought Lisa Goldstein’s take on time travel and the way she incorporated history into her story was fascinating. However, some very annoying characters and a lack of attention to detail were the two main aspects of the story that I just couldn’t get past, which made this a very frustrating read for me. Even with an exciting story and plenty of tension, there were so many “mistakes” with the timelines that I found myself groaning and even yelling at the characters, which is never a good sign. However, the story kept me interested and I’ll admit I couldn’t stop turning the pages.
Here’s a quick recap of the story: Ann Decker is a young woman in a dead-end job, trying to make ends meet, when she’s asked to interview for a mysterious company named Transformations Incorporated. She jumps at the opportunity, and is soon on the strangest job interview of her life, taking tests, answering questions, and even sitting through a physical exam, all before she’s even told what the job is. Once she is hired, she joins a few other recruits and begins intensive study in history and physics, and soon her teachers explain that they are preparing the students to travel back in time, in order to make small changes that will hopefully make the present a better place to live. Ann’s first assignment is to jump back to ancient Crete, but things do not go as planned, especially since one of her fellow employees dies on the time jump. Ann begins to suspect that there may be a conspiracy, and no matter how many questions she asks, she can’t shake the feeling that they aren’t telling her everything.
But after an exciting assignment involving the Great Library of Alexandria, Ann returns home to a world changed—and not in a good way. With her suspicions about the company confirmed, she sets out to change the world back to the way it should be. But the company will do everything they can to stop her.
Here’s what I really enjoyed: Goldstein has written a wonderfully feminist story, beginning with a matriarchal society in Kaphtor that worships goddesses. Ann meets another Transformations Incorporated employee there named Meret, an African-American woman who appears to have had great influence over the centuries. One of the ongoing mysteries of the story is that Ann is searching for a secret group of women who can only be found by using the password “Kore,” or “heart.” As Ann realizes that the peaceful, goddess-worshiping society has transformed into a patriarchal, male dominated society, she hears rumors that the descendants of Kore are still practicing, and she sets out to find them.
I also loved the way Goldstein took the fascinating historical story of the Black Madonna and used it to great effect in her story. She suggests that “Meret” eventually became “Mary” and that her followers created statues and paintings in her image. She clearly did lots of research, and all these details made me feel as if I had gone back in time myself.
What didn’t work was when the story jumped back and forth in time, which unfortunately is the whole point of a time travel story. I hate to use the term “lazy writing,” but that’s what much of this book felt like to me. There were so many times in the story where things just conveniently happened, without the characters having to work too hard. For example, in one scene Ann needs to jump to a certain time period without anyone knowing, because she’s trying to fix the timeline. Forget the fact that she’s only been with the company for a few months, because she conveniently knows A) how to operate the time travel platform herself. B) how to get into the room with the time travel platform without anyone seeing her and C) how to accomplish her task and get back without anyone seeing her.
As for the characters, I did love the women, especially Meret and some of the historical figures in the past. But Ann? Well, she obviously wasn’t hired for her intelligence, because she blunders around in the past without following any of the critical instructions she’s been given, mostly to blend in and not call attention to the group. Even the group leader, a woman named Emra Walker, who has supposedly been on many trips to the past, doesn’t know when to keep her mouth shut. In one scene, the travelers ask a villager “Where are the restaurants?” I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure that term wasn’t used in the 1200s. Little things like this popped up throughout, and each time I was jerked out of the story.
Goldstein includes a sad back-story for Ann, who has grown up as an orphan in foster homes and has terrible scars all over her chest, and of course it occurs to Ann to try to use time travel to find out what happened to her, since she has no idea how she got the scars. But in hindsight, I didn’t really see the point of including this, since it doesn’t really relate to anything else in the story.
Goldstein is an award-winning author (she won the National Book Award for The Red Magician), which makes me curious to read more of her books. But I’m not sure that Weighing Shadows is her best effort. However, if you are a history buff and you enjoy a good mystery that takes place over hundreds of years, this book might work for you. If you can ignore the little things that drove me crazy, Weighing Shadows is a fascinating look at shifting societies, in particular the way women are treated and portrayed throughout history.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.