Book Review: Out of Time by Laurie Graves
Laurie Graves is back with Out of Time, the third entry in her Great Library Series. More straightforward in its progression than its two predecessors, with their skillful time jumps and multiple narrative threads, Out of Time is also Graves's most well-written book yet.
Those of us who thought Graves might follow the standard trilogy pattern, perhaps with a prequel afterwards, were proven wrong in a big way with the last chapter of Out of Time. Unless she is playing a cruel trick on the reader, it appears we are in for much more fantasy, action, adventure, and comedy from Maya Hammond and her cohorts. The book ends with a wallop of a cliffhanger, so look forward to more Great Library entries down the road. This is great news for many of us!
Also great news is the return of protagonist Maya to center stage, exactly where she belongs. This character is a fantastic lead: spunky, thoughtful, and compassionate. Readers will miss Viola, but there are a host of great new characters joining Maya on her latest outing.
From the onset of this series, Graves gave herself a great deal of room in which to play by framing the books as an epic battle between Time and Chaos, centered around a place called The Great Library. Facts matter, and when the evil Cinnial (slight echoes of Tolkien's Sauron) took over the Great Library in book two, Library Lost, we knew that Maya's fight had just become that much more difficult (and crucial). Instead of wrapping things up in Out of Time, Graves has Maya and a new group of friends take off for the land of Elferterre on a double-barreled mission. They must steal a lock and key from an imp named Galli. The lock can be used to trap Cinnial, and the key will set free a group of exiled Elves who have been banished from Elferterre to Earth. That's all I'm going to say about the plot, but you can probably surmise that there is a lot of potential damage from Cinnial's takeover that could provide material for many future installments. The cliffhanger suggests that Graves just might have multiple books in store, but only time will tell.
As I previously mentioned, Out of Time is by far the most linear book in the series thus far. Maya, Will, Jay, and Lexie set off on a mission, and their trials and tribulations along the way comprise the bulk of the novel. Graves has ramped up the pace in Out of Time, which I found to read faster than the first two books in the series. We meet sprites, ogres, imps, a witch, elves, and an absolutely endearing talking cat in this book. Like the best classic fantasy novels, our protagonist has a goal with life-changing implications, but there are many obstacles along the path to achieving that goal. In this novel, Graves seems to have more fun than ever before, putting twists on classic fantasy tropes and allowing her characters to develop amidst the skillfully written action scenes.
One thing that has appealed to me about each entry in the Great Library Series thus far is the way that Graves juxtaposes the modern world of Earth (in times ranging from the 1970s to today) with her invented kingdoms and realms. This adds a note of realism to the novels, and she never gives short shrift to these segments. Out of Time opens with Maya having escaped the clutches of Bigly and landed in New York City to watch her six year old self enter a store with her mother. This scene, which has the potential to confuse the reader due to the time traveling, is handled clearly and smoothly by Graves. When Maya-from-the-future sees her younger self entering the store, she remembers the exact circumstances of that day. In need of money, she recalls that her younger self left a pocketbook that she had received for her birthday on a shelf in the store. This was a great tragedy for young Maya, and I found this sequence extremely clever and endearing. The fact that Maya-from-the-future is able to use the money from her lost childhood purse is poignant, a way to invest childhood Maya's unfortunate event with some semblance of value. A very sweet moment that kicks off this novel and proves that Graves knows how to handle the complicated matter of time travel like a pro.
Although many readers will be intrigued by the developing romance between Maya and Will, for me, the great addition to this novel is the character of Lexie. Graves addresses many contemporary issues in her series, alluding to matters of fake news and the importance of facts, the environment, and discrimination. For me, Out of Time is the most feminist of the novels so far. When we meet Lexie, she is a rude, selfish girl who treats Maya in a very cruel fashion. Maya, emboldened by her gift of sight and the many battles she has endured, tells off Lexie in an extremely biting manner that is almost jarring. Graves sends Maya, Will, and their friend Jay through a portal into Elferterre, but she has a trick up her sleeve: Lexie will soon join them, sent through by the devious Nemesis. Whatever plot Nemesis thought she had cooked up backfires, because Maya takes a very compassionate and pro-woman stance, reaching out to Lexie and making her a true part of the mission. Reluctantly, the two form a bond that becomes consistently stronger as the book moves forward. This female friendship was one of the highlights of Out of Time for me.
Speaking of highlights, Hanss the "cool cat," a talking feline, almost (I said almost!) gives Memere a run for her money as my favorite of Graves's supporting characters to date. Hanss is the first creature Maya and her friends meet, and he warns them that many others have attempted to steal the lock and key but failed to do so. Hanss comes across as quite dignified, so when you see him running for his life or curling up on the lap of a witch, you can't help but chuckle. Humor rears its head many times in Out of Time, and you can almost envision Graves laughing up a storm as she gives clever dialogue to Hanns and his friend, the mischievous sprite named Kai, or carries on about the absolute love for chamomile tea that the residents of Elferterre possess. She also cleverly inserts a shout-out to her own fantastic blog by incorporating the word "hinterlands" into the novel (check out her blog, Notes from the Hinterland).
Speaking of that witch, Myranda is another of my favorite characters and a further example of the feminist themes in this series. Myranda is a witch who resides in Lavender Cottage, and she very much wants Maya to remain behind and become her apprentice. Maya is tempted to stray from her larger purpose, much as Frodo was tempted by the Ring in Graves's beloved Lord of the Rings. She stays strong, however, and Myranda is not insulted. She knows that Maya has much to accomplish and chooses to help a fellow female (one who might become even more powerful than she) rather than try to thwart her. The scenes at Lavender Cottage are among my favorites in Out of Time, with the fantastic description of Myranda's home and the magic lessons that are instrumental to Maya's future success.
As I said earlier, Out of Time is for me the most well-written of the three excellent volumes of the Great Library Series thus far. I think the character development might be strongest in the first book, and the plot twists and layering are the highlight of Library Lost. But word for word, the writing in Out of Time is just wonderful. Graves pays homage to fantasy novels of the past, but also creates worlds and characters that are totally unique. Like Tolkien, she invests a certain tone of sorrow into her novels, even when things are heading in the right direction. This is always a beautiful part of her books for me, even if it's subtle; in fact, the subtlety adds to the effect. And when Graves comments on an important issue of our times, such as the environment, it's always done very naturally, making the point within the context of the story without sounding heavy handed.
In addition to all that I've just said, though, it's the language that stands out in this book. Here is an example of the strong prose:
"Maya was moved by the bond that connected these two creatures who were unalike, and she wondered if it could ever be this way on Earth, where humans often didn't extend their affection to each other much less to a different species. Maya knew that humans loved their pets, but she could tell that the attachment between Kai and Hanss was different, based on respect and quality rather than dominance." (Graves, 2020, page 72)
Out of Time is faster and flashier than Maya and the Book of Everything and Library Lost, but somehow deeper as well. Graves expands her cast of characters, continues to develop her lead, and experiments with ever more elements of magic and fantasy. Her writing continues to shine, and she has become even more adept at balancing the action sequences with the philosophizing, the adventure with the quiet reflection. These are special books, which will appeal to a wide range of readers. In these trying times, escapism is more welcome than ever. You will find great escape as well as much food for thought in Out of Time, the strongest entry yet in the Great Library Series.
Out of Time by Laurie Graves was published in November 2020 by Hinterlands Press