Since Annie Simpson's husband died a year ago, she's been living a lonely, boring life. At first it helped her heal, but now her days seem empty and lacking purpose. One night, however, Annie enters her kitchen and is stunned and scared to see a large, gorgeous, naked man standing there. Before she can flee or call the police, James convinces her he's not going to hurt her. When Annie finds out he has come back to the past to flee the group intent on killing him, Annie thinks he's insane...at first. Then she starts to believe. Horrified by the grim picture of the future that James has painted, one of slavery and butchery, she offers to help. She's drawn to James in a way she's never felt before, not even with her husband, and when James is near her, she can't help but feel alive. When the full scope of the truth comes out, however, the question of life becomes a hotly contested topic, and Annie's previous blind faith may result in the death of everything she holds dear.
Never Love a Stranger is a difficult book for me to review. I didn't like it, but I can appreciate what the author accomplished and what she was trying to accomplish. I think the concept of the book was good. It was an interesting plot and Fisher's vision for the future was pretty comprehensive and impressive. There were a lot of layers and deceptions, ill intents and heroic actions that blended together in an odd, yet compelling way. I can understand how some readers would find some of the revelations in this book to be disturbing, even though I'm not one of them. Yes, there were things in this book that were difficult to accept and not something you'd find in a traditional romance novel, but I found those aspects to add a sense of gritty realism to the motivations of the characters.
That realism was appreciated, especially as I found it so lacking in other aspects. I had significant issues with character action and dialogue from the very first page. I felt neither were very believable through the whole of the book, and I can't imagine anyone with a modicum of self preservation acting as Annie did when she first saw James. The dialogue between the characters was often heavy-handed, trite, or cliched, and very little of it felt organic to the characters or the situations they found themselves in. The characters themselves, especially James, were inconsistent throughout and James' personality and vernacular fluctuated between believable for his backstory and situation to bordering on absurd. Any time a character who has supposedly traveled back in time from over three hundred years into our future, and has been shown to be perplexed by the identity and function of something as pedestrian as a bath towel may lose a lot of cred as future-guy when he starts uttering such modern colloquialisms as "Go to hell."
I appreciated the author's intent, but this book is also beleaguered by a large schism that splits the book into two parts and turns a slightly common but basically harmless time traveler romance into a quagmire of scifi frustration and implausibility. I acknowledge that my preferences in reading lie elsewhere, so I don't want to appear hypercritical of issues that wouldn't please me if they'd been penned by Asimov himself, but I can't help but feel that the material and plot were larger than Fisher's ability to translate the ideas to the page. I hope that doesn't sound like harsh criticism, because I love that Fisher tried. I just don't think that there are many authors who can do it effectively and believably to begin with - time travel is literally littered with paradox and confusion, and defining an entire futuristic landscape in the span of half a book is a mighty task.
Had Fisher's ambition for this story stopped at overcoming the...er...intrinsic differences...between Annie and James, I think I would have been okay with it, but all told, it was too big a concept and handled with too little sophistication to be enjoyable for me.
Originally reviewed for One Good Book Deserves Another.