Book review: Tempest by Julie Cross

Tempest by Julie Cross
St. Martin’s Griffin
Publication date: January 17, 2012
Review copy: NetGalley

I’ve been looking forward to reading Tempest ever since I saw its striking cover and read the synopsis. I’m a sucker for a good time travel story, but the more such stories I encounter, the harder it is for them to impress me. After a while, they all seem somewhat familiar—which makes it even more important to focus on the characters and relationships. Fortunately, Julie Cross manages both to create sympathetic, interesting characters and offer a surprisingly fresh take on time travel.

“Erase everything you’ve ever heard about time travel, because it will just confuse you,” Jackson Meyer says, when trying to explain his method of moving backwards through time. This is good advice for the jaded science fiction reader who thinks he’s seen it all. Part The Time Traveler’s Wife, part Jumper, and with a dash of Quantum Leap, Jackson’s unusual genes make it possible for him to visit the past—but only for a short time, and only within his own lifetime.

He and his nerdy friend Adam meticulously, scientifically, test the limits of his abilities and document the results, and of course eventually Jackson learns that there are exceptions even to these rules. All this, while juggling a serious relationship with the love of his life, Holly Flynn. She doesn’t know about his power, and he’d like to keep it that way—until Holly’s life is threatened and he becomes determined to find a way to avoid the tragedy.

Jackson’s self-assigned mission is where the novel treads the most comfortable ground, but there’s a reason this kind of story has become a cliché—because it offers the most potential for drama and personal conflict. What’s more noble than trying to save the life of a loved one? And as it turns out, Jackson has several much bigger problems to deal with. For instance, he’s stuck two years in his own past, with creepy government agents on his trail.

Tempest is as much a mystery as it is a science fiction adventure, as well as a rare “boy book” that successfully explores a romantic relationship in some unexpected ways. The time travel mechanic is one of the most interesting aspects, as Jackson learns more about his power, how it works, where it came from, and what it means for his future. Though time travel is often one of the toughest things to explain in fiction, Cross guides us through it slowly and clearly, neatly bypassing the trickiest of concepts, the potential for temporal paradox; one gets the sense that even if the reader doesn’t always get how it works, she’s put a lot of thought into it, and the story suggests there’s a lot more going on than we know—but then, this is the first book in a trilogy, after all, so we’ll allow the author some secrets, for now.

As for the characters, this book is all about character development. Jackson has a unique perspective on his own past, the kind only Ebenezer Scrooge can appreciate, and his repeated trips back in time reveal new facets to his strained relationship with his father and startling truths about his past. Though Jackson isn’t always likable, he’s smart and trainable (luckily able to learn from his mistakes and then prevent them from happening), and he’ll win over most readers through sheer charm, humor, and the very best of intentions, not to mention an admirable proclivity for self-sacrifice. For my part, I identified with him as soon as I found out we have the same birthday, which unfortunately we also share with one Edward Cullen, who is kind of an anti-Jackson as far as role models for good boyfriends go.

Though some of the dialogue falls flat for me, and characters don’t always behave in the most realistic ways (even for a time travel book), this book never failed to keep me engaged and turning the pages. The story starts out slow but the pace picks up considerably by the end. Every twist in the plot revealed more answers and more questions, the stakes kept rising, and the scope of the book just got bigger and bigger.

Though the book naturally ends on a cliffhanger, the story has a satisfying conclusion that left me more excited than frustrated at the promise of a sequel, and wishing I could travel in time so I could read it sooner. Recommended.

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