Stranded (The Shorten Chronicles #1) by Rosalind Tate #SPFBO

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Stranded is the first book in my first batch of books as part of the SPFBO Competition.

Stranded

This is historical fiction with light fantasy elements and a hint at romance not yet realised but slowly coming to fruition.

Sophie Arundel has arrived at University, with her pet dog Charlotte.  It’s her first day, she’s allocated a room and as she makes her way across campus she spots a former classmate – Hugo – although the two were from completely different circles and not exactly what you’d class as friends.  To cut a long story short, the two of them, plus the dog, after entering what they believed to be a lift, are taken back in time to an alternate history.  The lift was a portal that disappeared not long after dropping our two main characters into the middle of the countryside with little idea of when and where they were.

From here the book is predominantly about coming to terms with the different period, living in a world where social norms are much more restricted, trying not to offend everyone whilst at the same time as trying to figure out the mystery of the portal and how and when it might become available again, on top of which there is an unknown person who seems to be taking Sophie and Hugo’s meddling badly and is issuing threats.

In a nutshell I’d liken this to Pride and Prejudice (the characters) meets Downton Abbey (the setting) meets ‘insert cosy mystery of your choosing’.

After a slightly rocky start I found myself enjoying this.  The author clearly enjoyed writing a period style novel and, although I’m not an expert on the time, seems to have researched the time well – although, as this is an alternate history you need to exercise a little leeway because a number of events, highly significant to our own history and pertinent as driving forces of emancipation, have not occured and therefore certain elements are slightly skewed.

What shone through in particular from this was that the author enjoyed the period and telling a story that is descriptive in terms of setting, house and clothes etc.  In fact, I mentioned above that I found the start a little rocky and I think that could simply be because the author wasn’t quite in her element in a more modern setting and found her feet as soon as our characters were taken back in time.  I also enjoyed the other little nods – for example the dog being named for one of the Bronte sisters because of the main character’s love for Jane Eyre.

The setting.  1925, grand house, upper class family.  You could be forgiven for thinking that Sophie and Hugo have fallen on their feet as they’re lavished with attention, clothing, food, events, etc.  In fact this is where the Downton Abbey comparison came from.  It really does have a feel of that particular drama and I’m not pointing that out as a criticism as such, more a simple observation that at times this almost feels like an alternate style fanfic.

The plot.  Well, as the story begins we pretty soon learn that a number of people have also come through the portal, in fact the ‘Lady of the Manor’ herself and indeed the local landlord and the head gardener at the house are all from similar modern backgrounds.  Sophie and Hugo spend some  time trying to figure out what links the travellers in particular but to be honest the mystery of the portal plays second fiddle to the developing friendship (potentially budding romance) between Sophie and Hugo and the ever increasing number of faux pas made by Sophie as she tries to come to terms with the restraints of the period – the corsets being the least of her problems.  As I mentioned this is an alternate reality and certain ‘key’ events have not taken place leaving our travellers with the dilema, should they be unable to return to their own lives, of having an uncertain history ahead of them.  On top of this someone, unknown, is taking an interest in their investigations and sending warning notes.

The characters.  I struggled a little to really like Sophie.  I feel a little unfair saying that because she isn’t a bad character so much as slightly annoying in that for someone who has travelled to an alternate place she seems to have very little self control or self preservation.  She is constantly blundering around offending people willy nilly – okay, I think it might have been a lot more useful if the lady of the house had sat her down and outlined some of the pitfalls, but, even with that lack of guidance you would think Sophie might have acted a little more cautiously.  Hugo on the other hand, and quite in contrast to how he seemed initially, seems to be a studious fellow with an infinite knowledge of the period therefore much more comfortable when it comes  to fitting in – not to mention, let’s be honest, men didn’t suffer the same restrictions really, particularly in terms of reputation.

As I mentioned the author is clearly comfortable writing an historic style novel.  She certainly got her teeth into the period and it was obvious that she enjoyed writing this.  The pacing is fairy even and I had no problem with forging ahead.

In terms of criticisms.  Well, firstly, although this is a portal story and alternate history it’s very light on fantasy.  The main element of the story seems to be about Sophie’s struggles to fit in and even the mystery is relegated to the background.  I’m not really sure why the author felt the need to include a dog in the story.  Don’t get me wrong, I adore dogs and I’m always happy to have them included when and wherever possible but this felt more like a plot device not to mention a little unrealistic at times in both the way Sophie behaved and her expectations in terms of the dog.  There is also an element of Sophie and Hugo struggling very little indeed.  They definitely landed on their feet being treated like favourite visitors and lavished with attention – which is probably why I railed against Sophie so much.  She could have found herself in a totally different situation by mere fluke, perhaps a scullery maid for example, getting up in the early hours to light fires, etc, instead of being drawn baths and helped to dress by her very own lady’s maid.  I don’t know, the fact that neither character seemed to have any real regard for how lucky they seemed to have been, or how very precarious their situation could have been irritated me slightly.  Finally, the mystery feels a little like an afterthought, the characters don’t seem to have any urgency at all about getting back ‘home’ in fact they both become very settled with almost indecent haste.   Also, if you’re picking this up expecting romance then be warned that this is very subtle, clearly the two main characters are becoming attached but there is no real romance at this point.

Okay, criticisms aside, this is an easy to read, cosy, period mystery.  I would describe this as charmingly easy. It’s perhaps not a book that I would instantly pick up off the shelves but I had no problem reading this one.

I received a copy courtesy of the author, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.