Grace Trewe comes to York intending to spend as little time as possible sorting out her dead godmother’s affairs before moving on, the way she has always done before. Grace prides herself on her independence. She is a practical, sensible, self-reliant person, impatient with spirituality or mysticism and what she thinks of as wallowing in emotion. Having survived the Boxing Day tsunami, Grace knows how lucky she is to be alive. She looks forward, not back.
But in York Grace discovers that the past cannot always be ignored. Her godmother, Lucy, has been dabbling in the occult, and it seems that she has raised an unquiet spirit, Hawise, who lived, loved and died in York over 400 years earlier. Hawise died believing that she has failed her daughter, and the more Grace is drawn into her life in the Elizabethan city, the more parallels she finds with her own life. For Grace, too, has failed a child.
Time’s Echo tells the story of Hawise Aske, an Elizabethan girl from York, who is tried for witchcraft and sentenced to drown in the River Ouse. In modern York, Grace Trewe arrives to sell her late godmother’s house and begins to experience disturbing episodes where she seems to regress into Hawise’s past. The book moves back and forwards between Hawise’s story and that of Grace in the present with a change of tense denoting the change in the narration.
The Elizabethan era is one of my favourite times in history and Hartshorne does a great job of bringing it to life, with York making a pleasant change from London. The sights, sounds and smells of the era are all vividly described, as are the social interactions between the characters who populate Hawise’s world. Unfortunately, Hartshorne did such a good job of recreating the past, I actually found Hawise’s story far more interesting than Grace’s. Grace’s modern setting has vague echoes of deja vu from her time spent with Hawise which results in the people she interacts with having a familiar feel to them even though they are strangers. Grace’s attraction to her next door neighbour, Drew, is coloured by the feelings Hawise experiences for her husband, Ned, but it pales in comparison. Grace and the modern characters are just not as interesting as those from the past and their presence in the story doesn’t seem essential.
While Grace eventually confides in Drew, he urges her to see a counsellor who duly diagnoses her with post-traumatic stress disorder but Grace knows she is being haunted by Hawise and seeks more unconventional help from a friend of her aunt’s who is a witch. As Grace’s episodes grow stronger, she begins to realise her aunt must have shared the same experiences which resulted in her death from drowning and Grace begins to fear for her life. Knowing Hawise’s fate, Grace tries to leave York but her escape is thwarted by Hawise at every turn and Grace realises she is trapped as the anniversary of Hawise’s death approaches.
While dealing with Hawise, Grace is also embroiled in trying to save Drew’s daughter, Sophie, from a dangerous cult who mean her harm. The cult is led by a charismatic young man who is the modern equivalent of Hawise’s tormentor in the past but I never felt this part of the story was fully developed and it all fell a little flat in the end. While Grace manages to survive the anniversary of Hawise’s death, there is still no explanation as to why Hawise was haunting Grace in the first place. However, when time moves forward a year, we learn that Grace was most likely a descendant of Hawise’s daughter, Bess, and once Grace tracks down what happened to Bess, Hawise finally seems to find peace.
The theme of witchcraft also drew me to this book but it didn’t feature as prominently as I had been hoping as I thought Hawise was an actual witch from the blurb and the opening chapter describing her death. The fear and the suspicion are all there but the actual accusation and subsequent death is rushed.
Time’s Echo is a decent enough story but a lot of the plot threads were unnecessary, such as Grace’s guilt over the boy who drowned in the tsunami, which I actually forgot about early on, and Sophie’s cult issues which really went nowhere.