A Shape on the Air

Written by Julia Ibbotson
Review by Penny Ingham

“She heard the chime of the church clock in the village. Midnight. The hour of witches and ghosts. The hour of magic.” Thus begins a fast-paced time-slip adventure. University lecturer Viv DuLac lives with her partner, Pete, in a flat she loves and is very happy with her life. But her perfect world collapses when Pete tells her he is leaving her for Viv’s best friend, and that he has leveraged the flat for his business. Utterly distraught, Viv takes a walk at midnight and falls into the local pond known as Cooney’s Mere. It is a time portal, and Viv finds herself in the year 499 AD, in the body of Lady Vivianne, orphaned and betrothed to a man she despises, the uncouth, devious Sir Pelleas.

The novel is, at its heart, a touching romance; “a love that lasts for lifetimes”, to quote the catch-line on the cover. But it is also an intriguing detective story, and Julia Ibbotson skilfully interweaves the past and present worlds, with a mystery to be solved, and wrongs to be righted, in both time periods. Viv’s present-day troubles are well drawn, whilst Lady Vivianne’s world equally comes alive with its sights, sounds and smells – from the purple thyme added to the pine logs burning in the hearth, to the stinking chamber buckets and midden pits. For the most part, the characters are convincing, with the exception of Sir Pelleas, who is a somewhat one-dimensional villain.

For all those who enjoy romances, and time-slip tales in the best Barbara Erskine tradition, I would highly recommend this novel.