Release Date: March 1, 2016
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Age Group: Young Adult
Source: e-ARC received from publisher for review consideration
When fragile, sixteen-year-old Hope Walton loses her mom to an earthquake overseas, her secluded world crumbles. Agreeing to spend the summer in Scotland, Hope discovers that her mother was more than a brilliant academic, but also a member of a secret society of time travelers. Trapped in the twelfth century in the age of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Hope has seventy-two hours to rescue her mother and get back to their own time. Along the way, her path collides with that of a mysterious boy who could be vital to her mission…or the key to Hope’s undoing.
Tell Me More: Sometimes expectations can make or break a book, setting up promises that the story itself can’t fulfill. Into the Dim is unfortunately one such example. Pitched as “Outlander for teens,” the book never really earns that comparison, and for that matter, it doesn’t earn the emotional involvement it asks from its readers.
Here’s the thing: Outlander is a series that promises a package of time travel, ethical dilemmas, intricate costumes, and a romance that serves more than just fuzzy feelings. Claire and Jamie’s love story makes the historical backdrop that much more epic, and it humanizes these characters, giving them (and in turn, the reader) stakes to protect. We care about what happens to Scotland because we care about Jamie, and we care about Jamie because we care about Claire. We want their happiness and well-being, and we’re willing to follow them across the centuries to see it happen. Without that foundation, what is left to ground us in a 1000-page novel?
It’s that perspective that I brought into Taylor’s novel, and it’s why I found the comparisons lacking and ultimately unfair to Into the Dim. Hope Walton’s story isn’t nearly as alluring as Claire Beauchamp’s, but it shouldn’t have to try and be something it isn’t. Into the Dim is a decent time-travel story, with historical details that are just specific enough to paint the set, and characters that fill predictable roles.
Hope is the centre of the novel, and the first few pages are designed solely to get her moving towards Scotland, not to help the reader connect to her. We get a list of traits–photographic memory, gift for languages, claustrophobia–but no real personality beyond that. She isn’t close to her father, but the distance between them feels contrived to push her into the arms of her mother’s family, which is of course convenient for the plot. As main characters go, Hope checks off specific boxes, but doesn’t feel like a real person.
Her mother’s secret is easy to figure out, and there is very little satisfaction in seeing Hope learn about it. Any comparison to Outlander would overshadow Hope’s discoveries completely, because there’s no emotional weight to them, not like Claire’s as she finds herself separated from a husband she loves. Hope doesn’t have a reason to care about her mother’s family, or her father’s. So why should the reader care? It’s a hard question to answer, one that doesn’t get any easier to figure out as Taylor develops a love triangle for Hope to muddle over. Neither boy is particularly appealing, nor is it clear what it is they see in Hope.
Things aren’t much better with the supporting cast, all of whom are simply okay. I struggled to keep the characters straight in my head even while I was reading the book, because I could only recognize them as the traits they represented: the cynical one, the bubbly one, the wise one. We aren’t given enough time to really get to know them, and Hope doesn’t really care if we do either. When you don’t care about the characters populating the story, it’s hard to care about the story itself, or the ways it could go wrong. All in all, Into the Dim is a book that’s asked to fill a position it can’t, to be sweeping and epic and captivating with very little emotional connection.
Janet Taylor lives in such a small town in Arkansas that if you happen to sneeze when you pass by, you’ll totally miss it. (Cause, you know, you can’t sneeze with your eyes open. For real–try it–it’s impossible)
She’s a reader/fan first and a writer second. She lives with her fantastic husband, two hilarious sons, and Dorda the diabetic dog who won’t win any beauty contests, but has a “nice personality”.