Tangle of Time (Gin Westcott)

Tangle of Time is the first novel in the Tangle of Time series by Gin Westcott.
Finished on: 08.09.2020
[I got this book in a LibraryThing Early Reviewer Give-Away.]

Mae, her boyfriend Greg and his friends Toke and Dexter hear about a job opportunity wherre they could make money fast – the perfect thing for college students like them. The job is physically demanding – getting precious stones from an old well – but things are going well. Until they aren’t and the foursome find themselves trapped in a series of tunnels. And when they finally find their way out, they find themselves thrown back in time to the 19th century. To say that they really need to readjust everything as they try to figure out how to get home is putting it mildly.

I like time travel stories and since the back cover text alludes to a feminist outlook, I was very excited to get into Tangle of Time. Unfortunately, the book doesn’t quite live up to my excitement about the idea.

The book cover showing two men and a woman standing in a valley. Arrows can be seen sticking out of a tree, there is a cabin in the distance and a cave that glows blue.

Tangle of Time is Westcott’s debut novel, so a certain unpolished feel to the novel might be explained by that. But I did struggle with the execution regardless. Starting with the fact that it takes more than a third of the novel until they actually arrive in the past, with most of their way there being them fumbling through darkness in tunnels. Not exactly what I signed up for.

And then, when they finally arrive in the past, the novel is very much concerned with the day-by-day routine of how people lived at the time. How did they cook, dress themselves, survive. And while some of that is interesting and, of course, you need at least some of that to make the setting feel believable, it was a bit too detail-oriented for me.

But that’s not the only time where the novel gave me information I didn’t want and left out information I would have liked. Greg gets separated from the other three and the novel seems to forget about him a lot. Every once in a while, a chapter is written from his perspective and it always feels a little perfunctory. “Oh, we haven’t heard from Greg in a while, let’s look in on him. But don’t worry, it won’t be long until we return to the story we actually care about.”

The political dimension of the novel also left me a little disconcerted. I am very much a feminist myself, but the way Mae brings up feminist talking points had me actually rolling my eyes. I caught myself thinking “oh, get over it” – and I don’t want to think that about a feminist thought ever. I don’t know what went wrong here.

I was even more cautious about the treatment of the natives in the book. There were a couple of moments where the kids talk about the genocide, where it does sound a bit like “both sides made bad decisions”. In the end, the kids decide that they have to save the natives, which raised all of the available eyebrows for me, but the white saviorism (caveat: Mae is a latina) goes pretty much unchallenged. I would love to read the perspective of a Native American critic on the portrayal here in any case, but I (a white European) didn’t feel entirely comfortable with the way they were depicted.

I have definitely read worse novels, and I am sure that some of the unevenness here comes from the fact that it’s a debut novel. But I don’t think I will be continuing with the series to see how things progress.

Summarizing: I was hoping for more.

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