A Shape on the Air

by Julia Ibbotson

Synopsis

A Shape on the Air: Dr. Viv DuLac is happily teaching at the university, living in an ideal apartment with her ideal man until the evening he returns from a conference only to tell her that he has found someone else and is leaving. Viv’s life now begins to change completely. Viv begins to experience time jumps from the present day to a day far in the past, in the Anglo-Saxon Britain of 499 A.D. and back again. In the past as Lady Vivienne, she must fight to reclaim her heritage and right the wrongs done by Sir Palleas, the usurper of authority. In the present, Viv must struggle to maintain her home against the machinations of her ex-partner, Pete. Along with the Reverend Rory Netherfield, Viv must solve two crises: one in the past and one in the present.

Theme of the Book

Viv’s mission, and the key to the book, is the righting of injustices. Viv herself is a victim of her ex-partner, Pete, and his financial dealings leading to her nearly losing everything. Lady Vivienne is also a victim of injustice having had to cope with the death of her parents at the hands of Sir Palleas. Viv’s decision at the end of the book is not one of exacting revenge but of righting a wrong.

What I Liked about the story

The structure of A Shape on the Air, with its alternating chapters, is an excellent device to keep the plot moving and to keep the two stories, present and past, in parallel. Each character in the present has his or her counterpart in the past. For Viv, there is Lady Vivienne; for the Reverend Roy there is Sir Roland; Pete, the villain in the present, is paralleled by Sir Palleas in the past. Even the less important characters, Ellie, Gwen and Tilly have their counterparts. Readers get a hint of what will happen by following the actions of the parallel characters, but there is enough of a surprise to keep everyone interested.

What I found most fascinating about the book was the portrayal of post-Roman Britain. The Dark Ages are often painted as crude, uncivilized, and barbaric. Dr. Ibbotson follows the latest archeological evidence to provide a picture of a culture rich in arts, in mythology, and in language. I found myself searching the Internet as I read to look at the artifacts from the time. Any novel that can keep a reader interested and entertained while teaching something new is a novel to be appreciated.

What I Didn’t Like About the Story

Would it have been so hard for Viv to simply ask Rory if he was married? A simple question or invitation (“Would you and your wife like to come for dinner?”) would have solved her problem. Instead there are pages and pages of internal dialogue, frustrating hesitations, and frequent misunderstandings. Any reader will figure out that Viv and Rory will be an established couple by the end of the book. This was obvious from the beginning. There is plenty of tension in the plot without the need to create more in the budding romance of the two main characters.

The author has either Viv or Lady Vivienne faint each time when crossing the time portal. While there must be some indication of time crossing, the fainting does get tiresome.

Final Say

A Shape in the Air is an odd combination of romance, history, adventure, and science fiction – but it works! Readers will have to suspend their disbelief when reading about time travel, but once that is accepted, the story is compelling. I read the book in one sitting only taking breaks to google the Anglo-Saxon artifacts of the Staffordshire Hoard.

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