Is it reincarnation, possession, or insanity? Those are the choices for 19-year-old Nicholas Blaketon when he meets the ethereal, virginal red-haired Alice Linwood. An American Studies major at an English university, Nick is injured in a rugby practice, and can't remember anything of the previous 24-hours except History major Alice and he's in for a drubbing by his mates because of that. It's not the only injury he'll receive in a very short time, either, but to Nick, nothing matters, except that he get to know Alice better. He can't explain it but when he's with her odd, almost magical, things happen; he's literally transported and transformed, in this Time but another as well and though at first it frightens him, he welcomes and savors it as part of her allure. So, though she wants nothing to do with him, Nick persists. Alice believes she's cursed, that anyone she really loves will die a violent death, but Nick's infatuation only makes him desire her more, and soon the two are a couple, happily wandering the English countryside searching for the shrine of an ancient Celtic water goddess which Alice is determined to find and re-store to the public eye. Then another figure enters the picture--Leonard Harkin, art teacher and Lothario, with a reputation for seducing his more attractive students. Len has had some type of relationship with Alice but now fears her almost as much as he fears the coming of nightfall in a way that's little short of psychotic. Taking refuge with Clare, an old student/girlfriend, Len begins a descent into madness as he's beset by hallucinations and apparitions he believes Alice has sent. Unknown to the three, there's a fourth presence in their lives--Ogrinius Licinius Vranaun, spirit of the long-dead leader of the ancient Celts of the area, friend to the invading Romans--alternately possessing Nick's body, transforming himself into droplets of rain or a watching animal, hovering and waiting to return himself to the corporeal plane and possess Alice as well.
The more Nick stays with Alice, the more he comes under her enchantment; as they visit the various ancient landsites, he experiences brief moments of displacement; he neglects his studies, his friends, anything distracting him from his obsession. Assaults by an unseen assailent, more lapses of memory, Len's moments of public madness--all head toward a culmination in which some or perhaps none will survive as an ancient force once more weaves its spell upon those living in the present.
MY OPINION: This is the best novel Linda Acaster has written so far! Coached in lyrical, almost poetically descriptive language, it leaps from one character to another with a speed that's dazzling and almost frenetic in its haste to convey their points of view. Though the classifications and terms of the British university system were a bit confusing, this was a minor obstacle to the story and the vivid descriptions made the countryside and the various Celtic sites come alive. Sad, haunting, even poignant, the characters of Nick, his beloved Alice, and Leonard are finely drawn to make us care about them. It's an enchanting story which leaves it up to the reader to decide if it's simply a story of obsession and psychological breakdown or if there are forces outside our present niche in Time which are trying to break through. It would make an eerie, unforgettable film. This is the first in a series of three novels concerning the adventures of student Nicholas Blaketon, and I personally can't wait for the others.