Book Review: Time’s Echo by Pamela Hartshorne

Time's Echo by Pamela HartshorneTime’s Echo is one of the most gripping novels I’ve read in a long time. It follows the story of Grace Trewe, who is staying in York to settle the affairs of her late godmother (Lucy) who drowned in mysterious circumstances. Grace is a keen traveller, fully intending to move on once the house has been sold, but memories of surviving the Boxing Day tsunami still haunt her, and she soon begins to have nightmares of drowning. These strange dreams, which appear to be set in sixteenth century York, seem frighteningly real, until past and present begin to merge into something quite extraordinary…   

The story weaves between Grace in the present and Hawise in the past. Grace attempts to ignore these surreal ‘dreams’, unnerved by her familiarity with the streets of a city she has never previously visited, and grateful for the friendship of her new neighbour Drew Dyer and his teenage daughter Sophie. She soon discovers that her godmother had an unhealthy interest in witchcraft, shared by the impressionable young Sophie. It is the appearance of festering, putrid apples which seem to vanish into thin air, that pushes her into seeking an answer to this mystery.

Meanwhile, in sixteenth century York, Hawise catches the eye of Francis, a stranger from London, and they begin to meet in her father’s orchard. It is only later that she regrets her boldness, realising that Francis hides a cruel heart beneath the charming exterior. He becomes dangerously obsessed, determined to ruin Hawise and willing to do anything to achieve this, until one day when she is accused of witchcraft.

The plot is complex, and I found it almost impossible to put this book down. The lives of these two young women seem to become more and more entwined, as Grace confuses her attraction towards Drew with Hawise’s relationship to her husband; and her dislike of the charming young Ash, with Hawise’s fear and hatred of Francis. It seems that the past is trying to teach her a lesson, but she is confused and afraid, aware that her godmother may have re-lived Hawise’s life as well, and inexplicably afraid of the River Ouse.

There is a strong focus on tangible details, from the scent of cloves and rotting apples to the heavy skirts and linen cap worn by Hawise. It is also fascinating to see the city of York through the eyes of someone in the present, who is able to see what was once there, the layers of time overlapping in the street names and buildings. The book makes you examine your own life too, touching on family relationships and the effects of trauma.

I was afraid that the ending would disappoint, but the suspense continues right up until the last moment, when Grace realises that she must face her own fears to save someone she cares for, and, in doing so, puts her own life in danger. It’s historical fiction at its best – real and frightening, vivid and acute.

Time’s Echo is published by Pan Books.

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