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eARC Review: The Ministry of Time by Kaliane Bradley

Release date:  7 May 2024

Rating:  3.5/5

Synopsis: A time travel romance, a speculative spy thriller, a workplace comedy, and an ingeniously constructed exploration of the nature of truth and power and the potential for love to change it Welcome to The Ministry of Time, the exhilarating debut novel by Kaliane Bradley.


In the near future, a civil servant is offered the salary of her dreams and is, shortly afterward, told what project she’ll be working on. A recently established government ministry is gathering “expats” from across history to establish whether time travel is feasible—for the body, but also for the fabric of space-time.


She is tasked with working as a “bridge”: living with, assisting, and monitoring the expat known as “1847” or Commander Graham Gore. As far as history is concerned, Commander Gore died on Sir John Franklin’s doomed 1845 expedition to the Arctic, so he’s a little disoriented to be living with an unmarried woman who regularly shows her calves, surrounded by outlandish concepts such as “washing machine,” “Spotify,” and “the collapse of the British Empire.” But he adjusts quickly; he is, after all, an explorer by trade. Soon, what the bridge initially thought would be, at best, a seriously uncomfortable housemate dynamic, evolves into something much more. Over the course of an unprecedented year, Gore and the bridge fall haphazardly, fervently in love, with consequences they never could have imagined.


Supported by a chaotic and charming cast of characters—including a 17th-century cinephile who can’t get enough of Tinder, a painfully shy World War I captain, and a former spy with an ever-changing series of cosmetic surgery alterations and a belligerent attitude to HR—the bridge will be forced to confront the past that shaped her choices, and the choices that will shape the future.


An exquisitely original and feverishly fun fusion of genres and ideas, The Ministry of Time asks the universal What happens if you put a disaffected millennial and a Victorian polar explorer in a house together?

 

Review


I’m going to put it all out there at the risk of embarrassing myself and just confess that I had a bit of an obsession with Jean-Claude Van Damme when I was a wee thing.  One of my favorite movies of his was Timecop—hold on, *fanning myself*—and this book has pretty similar vibes but not all the helicopter kicks.  I quite like the premise; I am a SFF nerd and love time travel stuff.   Bradley’s debut certainly has an interesting take and presents a character-centric novel that speaks more to humanity than to the theoretical side of time travel.  I enjoyed it for the most part, but I also found the cohesion of time travel and its effect on the world and characters could have used some more development.


Bradley’s brilliance really shines in dialogue and storytelling.  Several different people from different time periods get together and require assimilation into an environment of ultimate culture shock.  All of these characters feel like they’ve been pulled out of literature from their respective eras.  Navigating all of the cultural norms for each of those time periods and trying to navigate the complexities of acclimating all of these fish out of water was probably the best part of the whole book and quite clever to boot.


The problem with time travel, though, is that it’s pretty tricky to navigate and it’s been done a ton.  I’ve read a few time travel novels that aren’t heavily focused on the technical aspects, and they work, but I was a bit confused as to how the stuff really worked here.  The synopsis does say it’s a time travel romance, so I didn’t go into it expecting heavy SFF vibes.   I feel like there was a bit of technicality that didn’t get fully developed and left me wanting more.


Because the book feels like it’s navigating so many different genres—romance, time travel, espionage, social justice issues, climate issues—the story line feels spread a bit thin for me.  Just when things heated up a bit between Graham and his bridge, the story would shift focus to something else.  Things would then slowly pick up pace and then shift again to something entirely different.  If just the romance between the two main characters were pulled out of the book and bound by itself, I’m not sure it would take up even half of the pages.  Plus, the end reveal just pours cold water all over the mood and sets the reader right back at square one.  Two major plot lines really fight over the focus of this novel.


Despite that, I enjoyed it enough.  I can’t give it 4 stars, but it was certainly good enough for higher than 3 stars for me.  The brilliant writing style and dry wit and banter made me laugh, so I compromised with a solid 3.5.  I definitely recommend giving it a try.


My thanks to Avid Reader Press and Simon & Schuster books via NetGalley for the eARC, for which I willingly give my own, honest opinion.


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