As a female Anglican priest, Abi Rutherford must deal with occasional prejudice, and not only because of her attractiveness, youth, and gender. When she takes up a post as curate to Kieran Scott, the charismatic rector of St. John's in Cambridge, her hands-on, compassionate style of ministry conflicts with his stern, fundamentalist approach. Then an unexpected gift from her mother, a mysterious sphere of rock crystal, ratchets her naturally psychic abilities up several notches. After Abi admits to seeing a ghostly congregation in the quaint old church to which she's been assigned, Kier's personality takes a disturbing turn. Secretly fearful of the same powers arising within himself, he expresses doubts about Abi's religious beliefs and accuses her of witchcraft — a typical male reaction to the emergence of female power over the centuries.
With the help and support of her bishop, who believes the Church can't afford to lose her, Abi takes refuge with the Cavendish family at their home in the Glastonbury area. The manor's resident ghosts, a family living in pagan Britain of the 1st century AD, do not lie quietly, however, and they have a message they need to communicate through Abi. Images of a Druid priestess and her pupil, a young healer from Galilee, begin invading Abi's thoughts, disturbing her equilibrium and causing her to question what she knows about Christianity's origins. Suspense builds as Abi, embroiled in this ancient drama, can't help but follow it through to the very end. Meanwhile, her new friends grow concerned for her welfare, and Kier becomes dangerously obsessive in his attempts to exorcise her pagan demons and bring her back to God.
That the novel grips from the very beginning is due to Abi herself, a woman whose intelligence, kindness, and open-mindedness demonstrate the strength of her character. It takes skill to create a heroine of unswerving faith who can appeal to religious and non-religious readers alike. The beauty and almost hypnotic lure of Glastonbury come through strongly in the past and modern-day scenes, and Erskine deftly explores the correspondences between specific places (the Tor, the Chalice Well) considered holy in both timelines. Although the novel deals with a potentially divisive subject – the intermingling of pagan and Christian beliefs two millennia ago, as well as now – all is presented in a thoughtful, nonjudgmental manner.
Refreshingly, Kier is too complex to be a straightforward villain, and yet his dogged determination to make Abi see the error of her ways results in some repetitive scenes. And for an otherwise smart woman, she takes a very long time to realize that Kier means business. But despite these flaws, this engrossing novel isn’t too long even at 400-plus pages. It’s a smoothly written, uplifting read that explores the history and legends surrounding one of Britain's most sacred spaces.
Time's Legacy is published today, July 8th, by HarperCollins UK in hardcover at £18.99 (434pp, 978-0-00-730227-7). I thought I'd share the book trailer, as the visual imagery and soundtrack both complement the novel very well.