The Golden Hour was a great page-turner. I started it one night and was halfway through by about 2/3am. I really like time travel and, while the French Revolution isn’t an era of history that I love exploring, Maiya Williams made me able to enjoy it. There was something a bit old school in the style of adventure, very Edward Eager, whose Magic series books I read as a child, involving magic and time.
In the book, Rowan Popplewell and his sister visit their great aunts in a small (fictional) town in Maine. Their mother died a year ago and it’s been rough going. Nina, the sister, doesn’t speak and no longer plays the piano. While there, they meet up with twins, Xavier and Xanthe, who are black (!!!) and the four of them adventure to the local creepy hotel, where Xavier swears he saw ghosts. The aunts, the mysterious characters they are—with their shining new “antiques”—slyly encourage Rowan to visit the hotel, despite his reservations. The hotel turns out to be a portal. Otto, the concierge, doesn’t book stays, he books trips to anywhere in the past, as long as it’s the same day you’re traveling. But you can only travel twice a day, at Golden Hour, the time when the sun is setting and everything is cloaked in golden light, or the sunrise equivalent, Silver Hour. What fun! Rowan is hesitant to go, but Nina, missing her mother and finally breaking out of her shell of depression a little bit, skips off to the hotel in the middle of the night. Rowan thinks he knows where she went, the Enlightenment. Except he got the years wrong and he and Xanthe and Xavier head off to The French Revolution!
They meet a whole host of fictional and historical characters, including Marie Antoinette and Louse XVI. They search all over Paris looking for Nina, getting involved in the Revolution along the way. They realize she’s not even there, but not before making lots of very important people very angry. They skip a few years in the future (too many people trying to visit the French Revolution causes a ripple in time) to their execution. The aunts come to save the day, allowing Rowan, Xanthe and Xavier to escape and land back in the present, only for Rowan to realize where in the past Nina went. NYC 1990. Right before Rowan was born and her parents were happy and alive. She intended to stay with them, to get an extra 14 years with her mother, but Rowan convinces her that it’s not good to live in the past. Together, they can overcome their grief and live in the future.
It’s a sweet story with fun time travel antics. I am, of course, glad that there are two black sidekicks (though I must admit, when I first started the story, I knew there were black characters, but didn’t know they were sidekicks and so I thought Rowan and Nina were black. But slowly the description told me otherwise. And then we met the twins and I realized what was happening). They’re super smart, charismatic and funny, and Rowan has a crush on Xanthe.
In the preview for the next book, The Hour of the Cobra, it seems to follow Xanthe’s POV. This makes me happy, as it doesn’t just assume that Rowan is the hero and the twins are his sidekicks. They each get a chance at being the hero. The next book looks like it’s going to ancient Egypt, which is a period I enjoy learning about.
I immediately looked up Maiya Williams and saw that she not only writes children’s books, but also wrote for television! So basically she has my career. I emailed her and she sent me a brief response back that same night, which is really nice of her. One day, maybe I’ll email her again with more specific questions. But I mean, seriously? How crazy is it that she’s a black woman who writes TV and MG SFF books, when that’s what I’m thinking I want to do? Very serendipitous and cool.
This book was great and I am looking forward to borrowing the sequel. I do have a few questions or comments about the book.
- How do the aunts get stuff back from the past? I thought Otto said that things weren’t allowed to be brought forward, or did he just mean people? The next book seems like it will cover more about the aunts Curio business.
- I wish Nina had more of slow turn around. She went from not having spoken in a year, to speaking and playing the piano all in one night. I wish we’d gotten more steps before that. It seems like she’s not quite herself still in Rowan’s eyes, but it’s still a bit fast for me.
- Are the aunts coming to save the day a bit deus ex machina? There are pieces of their involvement mentioned throughout the story, but they suddenly come in to pull the cart leading the kids to their execution away at the very last moment. But I suppose Rowan does do some of the work in saving himself.