I have always been fascinated with the idea of time travel. I like the idea of throwing someone into the past and messing things up. Yes, I am guilty of romanticizing the past. But, I have also given considerable thought to how I would die in the past (Run over by something probably because my eyesight is awful), so it evens out. Based on my love of time travel, it stood to reason that when I hit puberty, time travel romance would be my romance sub genre of choice.
Time travel romance exploded when I began working at my public library in high school. Previously I’d read great YA titles like Caroline B. Cooney’s Both Sides of Time and Marianne Curley’s Old Magic and Guardians of Time trilogy. In early high school I’d read a few romance novels, but still felt the stigma around them. Some of that stigma was simply I was afraid I’d be considered too young to read them (the adults in my life didn’t know about what kind of fanfiction I was reading, after all.). And then one of my coworkers handed me a historical romance telling me she thought I would like it. I was visibly uncomfortable. She asked what was wrong, and I told her my hang-ups. She told me I could read whatever I want. That’s a good librarian right there. And so I worked my way to authors like Lynn Kurland, Karen Marie Moning, and, of course, Diana Gabaldon, scouring the shelves for that elusive time travel sticker. Seriously, a library sticker dedicated to time travel. The best sticker obviously.
What I Love About Time Travel:
I mostly read time travel where the woman travels back in time. Heroines in time travel know what they’re about. They experience the past, but they are smart modern ladies. This is not to say women are not strong in traditional historical romance. That is far from the case. But I do enjoy watching a woman who has a career and gets to live with tampons try and figure out how to live in the past. And usually she does great because she’s a resourceful, smart lady. If she chooses to stay in the past you know it’s true love, because she gave up tampons.
Heroes in time travel romance are usually physically appealing, true. I’m not here to apologize about attractive men in romance novels. But what’s more, they’re often appealing for their worldview. If you’re a hero in a time travel romance, it’s probable your romantic interest is going to act in way that throws you off. Personally I am partial to the heroes of Karen Marie Moning’s work for their hunk factor. Watching someone from before the 20th century or before can accept a strong, modern woman gives me hope, even as I learn that Men’s Right’s Activists are thing now.
This is the case for basically any novel with me, but there is so much potential for smart banter in time travel fiction. We see it done really well in Outlander. It’s also always fun when someone from the past is introduced to an idea from the future, or maybe the fact they don’t know something is used against them. Think that scene in A Kid in King Arthur’s Court where Cal introduces them to music, or rollerblades, or the Big Mac. (Then throw in some sexual tension.)
Clashing Social Mores
I am 100% more interested in social history than what battles were being fought where. Show me how people lived their daily lives, what was right and wrong, what was taboo. I also love challenging what we think about the past, especially in terms of sex. This all tends to end up in historical romance because it’s the daily things that impact our characters. For instance, I learned about garderobes via time travel romance. I tend to like a big juxtaposition as well. Give me a contemporary feminist sent to the Scottish Highlands. Brigadoon is calling. Also, all of this often asks us to think of time in a different way. Time is not a linear construct. Social ideas ebb and flow. For being something considered simply a mindless escape, it can spur some heavy thinking.
I love thinking about the reveal. Can our heroine keep it secret she’s from the past forever? What happens when the hero, or someone else, finds out? Do they believe her? Is she burned at the stake as a witch? These questions keep me turning pages as much as anything.
I love romance, historical fiction, and fantasy. Time travel romance usually has a mix of it all. As previously stated, my past reading does favor time travel to the Scottish Highlands (throw some recs for other titles at me!). In a way, the focus on the Highlands in time travel romance kind of makes sense because there’s a sense of magic and mystery to the place that makes it less a mental exercise to go with the time travel. Karen Marie Moning’s Highlander series features some powerful, and morally ambiguous fae. Lynn Kurland favors matchmaking ghosts.
I’ve had many discussions with the head of my local library about how fiction tends to go in waves of popularity in terms of genre. I’ve been waiting for time travel to have its day again. Maybe with Outlander finally being adapted for the screen, I’ll get my wish.In the meantime, I’ll start working on the Outlander fan video to Taylor Swift’s “The Way I Loved You” I’ve been wanting to make since high school, and you can recommend time travel romance titles I may have overlooked.
Other titles featuring time travel I enjoyed: The Time Travler’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger), The Shining Girls (Lauren Beukes), Ruby Red (Kerstin Geir), A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (Mark Twain), Revolution (Jennifer Donnelly), The Devil’s Arithmetic (Jane Yolen), Shadow of Night (Deborah Harkness)