Fiction Reviews

The Day Before Forever

(2016) Anna Caltabiano, Gollancz, £16.99 / Can$26.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-473-20046-3


This is part of a series, so warning: Spoiler alerts.

The third part of Anna Caltabiano’s Miss Hatfield trilogy came out as the author entered her final teenage year, with volume one, The Seventh Miss Hatfield being published by Gollancz when she was just seventeen.

This is time travel, Jane Austen style, rather than Doctor Who high adventure. Everyone Miss Rebecca Hatfield and her half-immortal reincarnated lover, Henley meets in the 21st century is terribly nice, even the guy who makes her a false passport. The Goth friends who emerge from nowhere and guide the strangers round London seem so insufferably kind that readers will be forgiven for thinking they are up to no good whenever they appear. Surely they must be connected to the killer who appears to be stalking Rebecca. Er, no, not at all. We will not really know who that is until late in the book, though some clues appear in the earlier volumes.

For much of the book, we get a rather quaint look at modern life as the characters learn how to shop. There is a whole chapter dedicated to a visit to a well-known fast-food franchise that may be the best unintentional product-placement advertising the company ever received. Even when the heroes travel to the US on false papers there is no real sense that they might get caught by security, as they show wide-eyed awe and fascination for how an airport works.

There is surprisingly little dramatic tension throughout the book until the genuinely exciting closing three chapters which get startlingly violent and even shocking but never fully out of control: though why the hotel staff, guests and police do not notice the commotion is beyond me.

For much of the book, whenever the heroine and her rather chaste lover get into embarrassing scrapes the very next paragraph puts things right again. They burst into our time in Elizabethan garb and look out of place, except they are promptly taken for museum re-enactors and safe from exposure again. Their nemesis breaks into their hotel room, but neither tries killing them in their bed or stealing the clock Rebecca uses as her time travel device, a portable miniature take on Wells’ original. As with Wells’ machine, this device also travels in time but not in location. Despite this attempt to kill them, the heroes go off site-seeing.

There are shades of The Time Traveller’s Wife here, (Rebecca cannot not travel in time for long periods of time without slowly going insane) and lots of importance goes to the waters of the Fountain Of Youth, source of her immortality. She hopes to get Henley to the waters rather than watch him age before her. He seems strangely reluctant, for reasons given in the book.

The story seems to wrap up a lot of loose ends, indicating that the author is keen to move on to new projects. The work is flawed but it seems to mature as you read it and in many ways its naivety adds to its charm – the travellers enjoy their adventure, like Time Lords on a Dalek free sabbatical, dismissing the threat of a murderous stalker as something that can just wait, and their relationship is rooted in friendship and romance but without any ‘I read Fifty Shades of Grey’ passionate intrusions. Though centred on shopping, site-seeing and meetings with non-ruthless black-marketeers, it remains a pleasant study that has and leaves a genuine affection for its main characters.

It will be very interesting to see what Anna Caltabiano does next. There are hints in this book that by her mid-twenties she may well be a writer of some considerable note and respect.

Arthur Chappell

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