There’s not a feeling I hate more than reading a disappointing book. Especially after I convinced myself the book was good after reading an excerpt and decided to purchase said book with my limited funds (which I could have spent on food, a far more satisfying purchase). This was the feeling I had while reading Timebound, which Goodreads and Amazon both assured me was a worthwhile read. It was a lie. As I turned the pages, I kept thinking about everything else I could have done with my $1.99. The time-traveling YA novel kicked off with Kate Pierce-Keller meeting her grandmother, Katherine, and being particularly interested in a medallion whose blue glow only she could see, which was indicative of her ability to time travel. The high-concept Timebound had lots of potential and certainly sounded interesting in the summary, but after its opening, it became a jumbled, dense and unintelligent read with a dull protagonist, an underwhelming romance and a shaky plot. To be fair, I didn’t finish this book (despite my valiant efforts), but since I did spend $1.99 and wasted time attempting to read it, why not tell everyone why I couldn’t finish?
Timebound‘s biggest offense is its main character. In first person novels especially it’s vital to have a main character whose head I don’t mind living in for an extended period of time. But I really, really minded living in Kate Pierce-Keller’s head. Perhaps if Kate had been moderately interesting, Timebound would have been tolerable despite its stumbles with its plot. Unfortunately she was the worst main character I’ve been subjected to in a long time. Her personality is neither enjoyable nor terrible. It’s simply nonexistent. Disappointing main characters are nothing new. I’ll use Twilight‘s Bella Swan as an example in that I disagreed with most of her characterization. But it was characterization. Bella’s choices were understandable and in keeping with her character, but Kate Pierce-Keller didn’t have a character to be in keeping with. She reacts depending on what the narrative requires of her, not because that’s the way her character would respond. None of her actions are connected to any overarching personal characteristics. She pushes back when it’s necessary and shrinks when it’s not. She has great instincts at one point and then is totally naive and making bad judgment calls at another. One minute she trusts her grandmother implicitly then she trusts a complete stranger more than her, and as it turns out this complete stranger is just as boring and wooden as Kate.
Trey turns up as Kate’s love interest (one of two) in the alternate timeline where neither Kate nor her mother exist and her father has a different family. From his introduction, Trey is a cardboard cutout who wants to follow Kate around because…something. There’s no explanation for Kate’s sudden comfort with him or Trey’s belief in her wildly unbelievable story about being a time traveler whose whole life got turned upside down in a temporal shift. There’s no textual reason either of them should be romantically interested in one another after their first meeting, but they simply are because the book needs them to be. I would have taken my YA-lit peeve of a star-crossed romance over what I got instead: two boring characters who like each other just ’cause. Give me cosmically ordained romance over this any day. At least there’s kind of a reason there. Instead of being character-driven, Timebound depends on the plot to move it forward, and when the plot is so shaky, that’s not a winning route either.
Apparently the main plotline (before I switched to rereading Harry Potter and deleted Timebound from my Kindle) was that Kate’s evil grandfather had gone back in time to create a new religion. This was mentioned in the book’s earlier chapters with the throwaway mention of “temples” but didn’t turn up again until a ways down the line which made no sense since it was initially thrown in there as a cliffhanger for an earlier chapter without any expansion. This also added to my negative opinion of Kate who is unattentive at best and unintelligent at worst. The temples get brought up while she’s in the middle of a giant info-dump of a conversation (most of the book is a giant info-dump really), but she has no questions about the sudden entrance of temples into the conversation. When it gets brought up again, she’s excited about the turn of events and wants answers. Meanwhile I was reading and went back several pages to see if I’d missed the part where the temples were given significance. I hadn’t missed anything, and the temples really were just dropped in there.
Anyway, Kate’s grandfather, Saul, is leader of the Cyrists who’s now working alongside Kate’s thought-dead aunt and namesake Prudence. There’s so much going on in Timebound, and there’s very little of it being done well. On one hand it’s playing around with the complicated family dynamics, dipping into their relationships with one another, then blowing them up with the temporal shifts that ruin Kate’s life before the main conflict becomes about Saul and the Cyrists. Not to mention Kate’s love triangle with Trey and Kiernan.
Those are a bunch of plot threads to handle, and Timebound doesn’t seem capable of handling any of them. The historical threads are the best part as Walker certainly did her research, but at times Timebound read like a history text book rather than a novel. The research bleeding through into the narrative disconnected me from the story, and Walker should have done better to make the relaying of that information blend easier within the confines of her story. The first quarter of Timebound is a giant info-dump. Through extended dialogue we learn varying details about Katherine’s time-traveling past. In a novel already dealing with a confusing concept, adding in extraneous details such as clothing and hairstyles and similar tidbits only makes it more difficult to engage with and understand the material.
The only time this dips into the past work is when Kate’s reading from Katherine’s diary. If Walker had given Katherine a POV (which could have functioned as a flashback) or even made the diary entries more standalone within the story and didn’t force them to go through Kate’s listless filter, they wouldn’t have been so hard to read. By revealing all the information through dialogue, it slowed down the story dramatically and made for a passive, uninteresting read.
I’m a firm believer in self-publishing and all its merits, but Timebound (originally self-published as Time’s Twisted Arrow and apparently underwent no editing before it was published again) could have used a lot more work to streamline it. If the exposition had been cut down, some of that time could have been used to improve the novel’s other weak points and made for a less annoying read.
Leave your thoughts in the comments.