Book Review: The Golden Hour by Maiya Williams

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In this first novel by a television writer, producer, and sometime editor of the Harvard Lampoon, we meet two children who are still devastated by their mother’s death a year ago. Nina hasn’t spoken a word since that tragic day, and Rowan keeps a diary in which he lists the reasons his life stinks. Their father isn’t doing too well, either. As his Brooklyn bakery seems bound for bankruptcy, he sends his two children to stay with a pair of their mother’s eccentric aunts in a remote, coastal town in Maine where many homes don’t even have electricity, to say nothing of cable-TV and video games.

Just when you are expecting a story like The Canning Season, where hurting kids find healing amid folksy, rural surroundings, a bizarre time-travel adventure breaks out. Together with twins Xanthe and Xavier, descendants of Jamaican slaves, the siblings follow a trail of mystery to an abandoned resort where, at the “golden hour” of twilight and the “silver hour” of dawn every day, it becomes possible to travel to any point in world history. What makes it possible are ingenious devices called “alleviators,” and what they alleviate is your curiosity.

One of the things Rowan hates about his life is that he is too scared to use the alleviators. But his sister, suddenly talking again, decides to go back to a time when there was beauty and culture. When Rowan wakes up one morning and finds no Nina, he realizes that the worst has happened: Nina has gone back to the past, and may choose to stay there forever.

Did I say the worst? No, it gets even worse. For when he tells Xanthe and Xavier about this, they realize that Nina may have gone back to one of the most dangerous times and places in history: France on the eve of its revolution. Disguised as a nobleman, an artist, and a servant, the three kids plunge into history and begin searching for Nina. Instead, they find themselves caught between the intrigues of a villainous Duke, the amusements of a doomed king and queen, and the savagery of the revolution’s leaders.

Too soon, it seems that their only chance of saving Nina from being lost in history is to get themselves sentenced to the guillotine. Funnily enough, the experience does a lot to heal Rowan’s broken heart. Now, if only he can keep his head attached to his shoulders…

Here is a quirky, suspenseful adventure through the pages of history, with heroes who will touch your heart. I am looking forward to the sequel, titled The Hour of the Cobra.