Disclaimer: I acquired this book when it was offered as a free Kindle download on Amazon. I do not know the author nor have I had any discussion with her regarding the book or my opinion of it. I am an author of historical romances.
This was one of those books I really, really wanted to like, and then when it was all over, I felt let down, almost cheated, almost as if the author had made a promise to me and then not kept it.
The Time Keeper is a novella so the story should be a little less complex than for a full-length novel. Unfortunately, I think this story had all the makings of a wonderful, intriguing, exciting full-length novel and the shorter form couldn't do it justice.
In 1720 Greenwich, England, Avery Hilfington is one of many trying to solve the mystery of longitude. Her father was lost at sea when she was a young child and she believes many lives could be saved if only sailors had a way of calculating longitude. The problem is serious enough that the crown has offered a prize of 20,000 pounds sterling to the person who discovers the solution, and Avery is determined to win it. Her obsession is all the stronger because four years ago, her lifelong best friend, Luc Rees, abandoned her and went to sea himself as a lieutenant in the Royal Navy. The story opens on Christmas Eve with Luc's unexpected return to Greenwich, just in time to rescue Avery while she is in the midst of stealing back a mechanism that had previously been stolen from her.
What an auspicious beginning! Immediately I looked forward to description of 18th century Greenwich, especially as compared to London. So many historical romances are set in London (or Cornwall) and Greenwich offered something different. But author Albright didn't provide much scene setting at all. In particular, as a reader I wanted to know more about Flamsteed House, what it looked like, how the characters felt about it when in it. Having the Astronomer Royal as a major supporting character was a great touch, if only he had been identified by his full name and fleshed out with a tad bit more of his considerable and fascinating history.
The further I read into the story, the less substance there was to it. The Big Miz induced more than a bit of a wince, primarily because it was instigated by another secondary character who had no real development. Avery's and subsequently Luc's misinterpretation of "the facts" therefore came across as forced and contrived even more than most Big Mizzes. (Is that a proper plural?) Why would the heroine Avery take this person's word without even confirming the facts? Maybe this person was sufficiently trustworthy because of a long and close relationship with both Avery and Luc, but nothing in the text explained that.
Maybe it was that lack of setting description that made the climactic chase scene feel over the top and almost Keystone Kops-ish. Whatever willing suspension of disbelief I had kind of ran out during that chase. And the ending -- what a huge disappoinment! Oh, not an unhappy ending wallbanger but when the primary external plot regarding the calculation of longitude is just left hanging with no resolution whatsover it's damned frustrating.
Although Albright's writing was adequate most of the time, there were places that really could have benefited from some judicious expansion, and there were some errors. The most notable was the reference to Buckingham Palace, which didn't exist in 1720. (Note: This error is apparently being corrected by the author subsequent to this original review.) The text could have used another run of proofreading; toward the end there were an increasing number of typos and missing words.
If I were an editor to whom The Time Keeper had been submitted, I'd have sent it back with the recommendation and strong encouragement that the author rewrite and resubmit. Flesh it out with more atmosphere and description of the setting and historical period. Weave in the fascinating history of the Astronomer Royal and the quest for the means to calculate longitude. Provide more romantic tension; if a Big Miz is absolutely essential, make it plausible.
I'd like to give this novella at least three stars, but the GoodReads scale allocates only two for "It was okay." I believe this story and characters had the potential to be much, much more, but that potential was never achieved.
Amendment to this review (31 Dec 2012):
I bumped it up to three stars. Or maybe two-and-a-half rounded to three. Not because the author told me she's fixing the Buckingham Palace error and not because I like the ending any better than I did before. In fact, my disappointment with that ending is the main reason I knocked it down to two stars in the first place and if anything, my disappointment is greater now that I've had more time to think about it!
And it's going to take a spoiler to explain. Albright created a character in Avery Hilfington who had passion and drive and intellect. Avery was an admirable character, not just a pretty face and body and fancy clothes. I liked Avery, and it wasn't just that the book ended with no solution to the problem of how to calculate longitude at sea, but rather that Avery herself gave up the quest. I not only felt cheated as a reader, but I felt Albright had cheated Avery. Avery wouldn't give up like that; she'd continue to search for the answers, even if someone else beat her to the solution. Avery might be disappointed that she didn't win the prize, but she'd be ecstatic that the discovery would lead to the saving of lives. And then she'd go right out and find another challenge. It's a mark of Albright's story-telling skill that she made me feel that strongly about the character she created. So as disappointed as I was and am about the ending, I have to give Albright credit for breathing such life and passion into Avery that I came to think of her a "real" person.
And who knows? Maybe more readers will agree with me, and with the magic of (almost) instant rewrites, Albright will modify that ending just a tiny bit and I can add another star.