Night Shade Books
Release Date: November 3, 2015
In Weighing Shadows, we meet Ann Decker, a down on her luck former foster kid working in a dead end job at rinky-dink Sam’s Computer Solutions. Ann’s fortunes seem to change, however, when she is recruited – supposedly for her computer skills – by Transformations, Incorporated, a nebulous company that touts itself as “problem solvers.” Shortly after starting work there, Ann learns that TI is actually in the business of time travel, with its operatives being sent back in time to make small modifications to the past in order to circumvent huge problems in the future. Apparently, climate change, food shortages and nuclear threats have made the future less than desirable, and Transformations Incorporated plans to do something about it.
Ann’s first assignment is to Kaphtor in ancient Crete around 1500 BCE. The team’s mission is simply to speak to an official known as the Minos, a figurehead who oversees minor disputes; Kaphtor is a matriarchy, with the Queen holding the real power. But things go awry almost immediately, and Ann quickly begins to suspect that the Company – already cloaked with secrecy – has not been truthful even in the little bit that they have shared with their operatives. Although the assignment is ultimately deemed a success, and Ann eventually travels in different times and different locations – including the burning of the famed library in Alexandria and France in the Middle Ages – her skepticism grows, and she finds herself drawn towards a shadowy rebellious element within the company itself.
Author Lisa Goldstein has come up with some very compelling ideas in her time traveling novel. Along with balancing the ethics of meddling in history against nudging events towards a better future are themes such as the systematic undermining of the matriarchy, personal identity in a fluid span of time, questioning authority, and individual responsibility in the face of history.
Unfortunately, Ms. Goldstein is not able to successfully bolster her ideas with an equally compelling narrative. The framework is there, but the wonderful detail necessary for a journey into antiquity is woefully lacking, and what is there is far too anglicized. While there are glimpses of bygone ages, for the most part I was not convinced as to the authenticity of what was being portrayed throughout, and openly skeptical in many passages.
Furthermore, the actions of the time travelers themselves, whether routine or under duress, are far too simplistic or coincidentally fantastic to convince me that they could be remotely possible, and many wonderfully dramatic situations are simply squandered due to lackluster prose; sentences are mainly flat and declarative: she did this, she thought that, this happened, then this happened. And the characters are stiff and undeveloped; even Ann’s confrontation with her past, meant to be a crisis point in the story, feels anti-climatic and strangely remote.
Weighing Shadows does have merit. The questions it poses as to personal integrity and the individual’s responsibility in the face of doubt are worth exploring, and the situations in which Ann finds herself do spark a reader’s imagination. And time travel is always alluring! It’s just too bad that this book falls way short of making those promising ideas come to life.
~ Sharon Browning