Ah, back to the Time Traveler’s Quartet. You may remember the first two installments of this Caroline B. Cooney series from my reviews of Both Sides of Time and Out of Time, the first two tales of superficial Annie Lockwood’s love for 1890s rich boy Strat. If you’ve read my previous reviews you’ll know how much Annie sucks, which is good news for Prisoner of Time because ANNIE’S NOT IN IT. Devonny Stratton, the best character of the series thus far, takes center stage this time. I only read this book once because Annie and Strat weren’t involved and I didn’t like the flirtation between Devonny and Annie’s brother (spoiler, oops) as much as I liked the batted eyes and fancy dress-ridden romance of Annie and Strat. What can I say; I was in the midst of puberty and hormones gave me misguided taste.
I recall this time around Devonny from the 1890s catapults into the 1990s instead of the other way around and meets Annie’s brother Tod. They crush on each other as she becomes accustomed to life in the 90s. Obviously, life in the 1990s is vastly different from Devonny’s 1890s existence and she’s in for a culture shock. That’s all I remember. Who knows, maybe I’ll like this more as an adult. I mean, I LOVED the other three books as a kid and now I’m like “these are crap.” When I was a kid, I thought this book was crap so based on the trend this might get 5 out of 5 this time around.
Childhood Rating: 1 out of 5 Where the Hell are Strat and Annies
Devonny Aurelia Victoria Stratton is living it up in 1898, sassy as ever and exchanging love letters between her best friend Flossie and the Italian workman Gianni who is installing a new Italian fountain at Stratton Manor. Devonny’s forced engagement to Lord Hugh-David Winden interrupts her petty trifles, whom Devonny sarcastically refers to as “Winnie.” Devonny overhears Winnie recounting to his friends that he is after Devonny for her money and plans to maintain his relations with mistresses because Americans are gauche. Devonny’s complaints fall on her father’s deaf ears because Mr. Stratton is thrilled anyone is willing to marry Devonny, let alone an English nobleman. Mr. Stratton reminds Devonny someone is blackmailing them with the threat of exposing Strat’s insanity, dashing Devonny’s hopes of making a respectable marriage.
Meanwhile in 1998, Tod Lockwood, Annie’s brother, is busy shilling “Stratton Point Spring Water”, a mix of tap water and water from the rusty pump at the ruins of Stratton Manor. Tod first encounters Devonny as he sips from the pump, while Devonny calls out to Strat for help across Time. Devonny tells Tod about her unwanted engagement, and Tod’s advice to Devonny is to refuse to get married. Tod assures her he can’t save her and Devonny disappears, leaving them rattled by their encounter. Devonny feels helpless, and Tod regrets not helping her.
Devonny and Flossie conspire to have Flossie sneak out and elope with Gianni during Devonny’s wedding after Flossie’s mother finds one of Gianni’s love letters. Devonny is happy to help her friend and to see her estranged mother at her wedding, which she otherwise isn’t looking forward to. Arrangements for a speedy wedding come together, and right before she walks down the aisle her father tells her he found out who’s been blackmailing the family with threats to expose Strat’s insanity. Mr. Stratton asks Devonny if she agrees the culprit should be locked away for the rest of his/her life and Devonny agrees, not realizing the blackmailer is her impoverished mother. Distraught, Devonny desperately hopes for an escape from her situation only to see Tod appear in the church, bringing her to 1998.
As word spreads that the bride is missing, Devonny’s bridesmaids are upset that Winnie will probably run back to England, meaning they won’t have a chance to snag him. They also finally notice the absence of Flossie (who thinks she’s been stood up) unaware her parents discovered her plot and sent Gianni packing back to Italy. Mr. Stratton declares that someone kidnapped Devonny. Winnie, meanwhile, is genuinely concerned for Devonny’s well-being and suspicious about the kidnapping story. He sees that, much like his parents, Devonny’s parents are more concerned with themselves than they are with their kidnapped daughter. This endears Devonny to Winnie and he does everything in his power to find her.
In 1998, Devonny is hysterical as she implores Tod to take her to Strat who will help her get back to the 1890s so she can save her mother. While Tod reminds her he doesn’t know any Strat, he sees popular girls from school coming his way, obviously amused by Devonny’s enormous wedding gown. He manages to chase them away by telling them they’re being filmed, and quickly gets Devonny into a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and stuffs her into his car. He whisks Devonny back to his house so he can e-mail Annie, who’s studying in Norway, for help, and then brings Devonny to the soccer games he’s coaching.
The differences between her world and Tod’s distract Devonny. Women in the 1990s have careers, everyone has cars and phones, women’s dress has become incredibly formfitting, but fathers still prefer to coach their sons in sports instead of their daughters. For all the progress in society since Devonny’s time, she sees some things are still downright Victorian. Tod warms up to Devonny as she enthusiastically cheers on his team, and starts crushing on her. Back in the 1890s, idiot Flossie is wandering the streets with vagrants and considering suicide over Gianni’s absence while Winnie offers his mother’s diamond necklace in exchange for Devonny’s safe return. How will Devonny get back to her time? What will become of her once she gets back? Will Flossie and Gianni reunite? Does anyone care? Read the book if you aren’t already bored to tears.
As I predicted, I enjoyed this book more as an adult than I did as a kid, and now I like it more than the previous two books in the series. Prisoner of Time has more substance than Both Sides of Time and Out of Time combined. Devonny and Tod don’t immediately make goo-goo eyes over each other like Annie and Strat did because they have things that are more important on their minds than wishing for a hot significant other. Devonny is about to be married off to a guy who wants her money, and Tod is trying to save up money with different business ventures. Devonny’s visit to 1998 allows her to see the future of women’s rights, which adds fuel to her proto-feminist leanings. She sees that even the future needs improvement, as a woman who recently had a baby girl mentions she and her husband were upset and are trying again for a boy, and fathers still give preferential treatment to sons. When she finally returns to 1898, she is emboldened by what her future could hold and now has the guts to go for it.
The antagonists in this book were a weak spot. Just as Walk and Mr. What’s-his-face were in Both Sides of Time/Out of Time, the villains are once again Snidely Whiplashesque in their subtlety. You can almost hear them cackle as they say things like, “When I kill him, I shall do it swiftly so he feels no pain.” It was somewhat lame that after creating protagonists with more personality than the previous two novels, Cooney couldn’t come up with more developed villains. They were cartoonish and it was hard to take them seriously.
Something I enjoyed about this book compared to the previous titles in the Time Travelers Quartet was Cooney’s research about Victorian marriage arrangements. Fans of Downton Abbey are familiar with Lady Cora, an American who married English nobleman Lord Grantham, much as Devonny is betrothed to Lord Winden. From the late Victorian era into the Edwardian age, it was common for English lords, desperate to keep their grand estates functioning while their pockets emptied due to social and economic changes, married the daughters of the American captains of industry for their dowries. With their wives’ massive fortunes, nobles were able to continue their lives of leisure, being waited on hand and foot. This is exactly Winden’s purpose when he first gets engaged to Devonny. To Marry an English Lord by Gail MacColl and Carol McD Wallace takes an in-depth look at this practice, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about marriages of the Edwardian elite. Learning about the extravagantly petty lives of these wealthy denizens of Edwardian America increased my appreciation of Cooney’s research this time around, and I’m a bit of a history nerd so it was cool to learn about the culture of High Society.
This installment of the Time Travelers Quartet, while still cheesy, was a vast improvement on the previous novels. The characters had more substantial goals and wishes and went through more character development than Annie or Strat did in two books. It stinks that Tod and Devonny’s stories didn’t continue in another novel. Guess I’m gonna have to Reread For All Time to finish this quartet…
Adulthood Rating: 3 out of 5 illicit Protestant/Catholic love affairs