Saturday, January 11, 2014

Veil of Time by Claire R. McDougall

Rating: ★ ★  ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: January 11, 2014

A compelling tale of two Scotlands—one modern, one ancient—and the woman who parts the veil between them. The medication that treats Maggie’s seizures leaves her in a haze, but it can’t dull her grief at losing her daughter to the same condition. With her marriage dissolved and her son away at school, Maggie retreats to a cottage below the ruins of Dunadd, once the royal seat of Scotland. But is it fantasy or reality when she awakens in a bustling village within the massive walls of eighth-century Dunadd? In a time and place so strange yet somehow familiar, Maggie is drawn to the striking, somber Fergus, brother of the king and father of Illa, who bears a keen resemblance to Maggie’s late daughter. With each dreamlike journey to the past, Maggie grows closer to Fergus and embraces the possibility of staying in this Dunadd. But with present-day demands calling her back, can Maggie leave behind the Scottish prince who dubs her mo chridhe, my heart?

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I had high hopes for Claire R. McDougall’s Veil of Time, but admit the reality failed to meet my expectations. Try as I might, I couldn’t get into the story and ultimately found the background information far more interesting than Maggie’s implausible romance with an eighth century Celtic warrior.  

Please excuse my impertinence, but I didn’t recognize one iota of chemistry within these pages. Maggie and Fergus go through the motions rightly enough, but that is as far as McDougall takes it. Where was the intensity? The raw emotion? The genuine cosmic connection? The plot is entirely dependent on this affair, but the lack of authenticity undermined the credibility of their relationship and by default, that of the larger story. 

Maggie’s epilepsy put an interesting twist on her ability to jump through time, but I felt the inconstant nature of her travels and McDougall’s failure to adequately explain the intricacies of these episodes detrimental to the integrity of the narrative. I understand her seizures and the medications she takes to control them are the catalyst that make her journeys possible, but ideally, I would have liked the author to have exerted more effort toward explaining the mechanics of Maggie’s transcendence of the space-time continuum.

These disappointments aside, I was drawn to McDougall’s portrayal of life in Dunadd. Her unsentimental recreation of the attitudes, beliefs and social structure of the Iron Age settlement are wonderfully researched and fascinatingly detailed. I also appreciated how she utilized this setting to explore the history of witch-hunting as well as the anthropology of Celtic paganism and early Christianity. 

Now I know everyone wants to know how Veil of Time compares to Outlander, but as I’ve not read the latter, I cannot make the token comparison. I do, however, think it interesting that the author herself implies her confidence in the manuscript was jump started by Gabaldon’s popularity. 

“I already had another book placed with my agent, though he had had no luck in selling it. I kept Veil of Time in my drawer, because I didn’t want him to stop plugging the first novel. After a while, I heard that a film version of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander was in the offing (which turned out not to be true!), so I thought I had better get Veil of Time out. Time travel seems to be a topic of great popular interest, and my agent was able to sell it relatively quickly”

Overly drawn-out and painfully slow, I can’t say I particularly enjoyed the time I spent with this piece and in all honesty, I’d have difficulty recommending it to anyone but those with a vested interest in ancient Celtic culture. The books incorporates some great subject matter, but the story itself didn’t appeal to me. 

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I have had dreams before in the aftermath of seizures: I have argued points of theology with Mary Queen of Scots, who wasn’t the blockhead history has made her out to be. I have strolled along the beaches of Saint Helena with Napoleon insisting to me that he was being poisoned. But nothing has struck quite so close to home as seeing Dunadd in this way, with goats tethered and children running barefoot, with great waves of drumming and singing, and at the back of it all, a low murmuring like a didgeridoo.
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1 comment:

RainbowEU said...

My thoughts exactly - Very well written.
I have not finished the book yet. I have the feeling that something is about to happen - much like the Suzanna Kearsley's novels which also start up slow but finish with a BANG!
I must add though, that there are times when the storyline is lost - I need to reread a previous paragraph, but still it seems that some part of the book is missing!