Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
- Age: 18
- Grade: 12
Armed with a newly minted university degree and a plane ticket to Paris, Jessie's plan was to celebrate graduation in the City of Love, kissing as many drunk French girls (or boys, she's not picky) as she can. Only, she never makes it. When her plane goes down mid-Atlantic she's pulled from what should have been a watery grave by an intriguing British Naval Captain-in 1805!
Stuck in Regency-era England, Jessie is left with no choice but to enter into the services of the Captain's sister as a lady's companion. But she didn't reckon on the sister being Margaret Goodenough, the world-famous authoress whose yet-to-be-completed novel was the first lesbian kiss in the history of British Literature.
And Jessie's not just entranced by Margaret's powerful words...
As their attraction grows, Jessie must tread the tenuous line between finding her own happiness in a world where she is alone, and accidentally changing the future of the queer rights movement. Is Jessie's duty to preserve Margaret's history-making book? Or to the happiness of its author, the woman she's learning to love?
About the author
J.M. Frey is an author, voice actor, and professional smartypants. She’s appeared in podcasts, documentaries, and on television to discuss all things geeky. Her debut novel TRIPTYCH was nominated for two Lambda Literary Awards, and garnered a place among the Best Books of 2011 from Publishers Weekly. Since then she’s published THE ACCIDENTAL TURN SERIES, a quadrilogy of meta-fantasy novels, and THE SKYLARK’S SAGA, a steampunk adventure duology. Her queer regency historical fiction novel THE WOMAN WHO FELL THROUGH TIME was honoured with a Watty Award in 2019. Her life’s ambition is to step foot on every continent – only three left!
Excerpt: The Woman Who Fell Through Time (by (author) J.M. Frey)
My world lurched violently, without warning. I gripped the scratchy fabric of the airplane seat hard with my nails. When the plane began a prolonged, bone-rattling shake, I bit my lip between my teeth and prayed to taste blood. It would be a distraction, at least.
"This is your c-captain speaking..." the woman said over the intercom. Though it was meant to be reassuring, her shivering voice was anything but. I screwed my eyes shut, felt my heart rising against the back of my throat, tasted fear - tangy and coppery, bile and blood. There was a thundering in the inside of my ears. She had been so warm and reassuring when we'd taken off. Now, I could barely understand what she was saying - oh, it was clear enough to hear, but my brain wasn't, no, didn't want to register it.
I caught the words "turbulence" and "unexpected" and "just off Gibraltar."
So far off course? I thought in a surge of startled shock. That's nowhere near Paris!
I had been desperate for this week's vacation, a chance to just unwind before I had to start the long hard slog of turning my newly granted Bachelor's degree in sociology into some kind of rewarding career. A week to climb the Eiffel tower, to drink a whole bottle of cheap French wine on my own, to smoke small black cigarettes on the Champs Elysses, to have as many one night stands with unique and beautiful French girls as possible. Or boys. Hell, at this point, I wasn't picky.
To kiss anyone ever at all again would be good enough.
A child screamed two rows away.
The plane shook again, hard and sharp, snapping us up into the air like damp dish rags. The seatbelt dug hard against my hip bones.
I just wanted live, to experience life in the City of Lights, if only for a ridiculously short time.
I just wanted to live.
The plane snapped the other way and we were all thrown hard against the sky. I finally tasted blood. It wasn't half the distraction I had hoped for.
* * *
Something hot and wet in my mouth. Too salty. I coughed, tried to suck in air, and got seawater instead.
I flailed. I think my fingers brushed dry air, but maybe it was my feet. Maybe it was a trick. Which way was up? I hung suspended in the water, ballooned out my cheeks. I used to do this as a kid; front flip into the community swimming pool, crash through the chlorinated glory of summer time relief, topsy turvy, let myself float like a fly on a spider's web near the bottom until the oxygen in my lungs bubbled upwards, told me which way the surface was. A light kick and I would be in the air.
But it wasn't working.
Crushing. It hurt so much.
Maybe I was too deep to bubble up. Maybe I wasn't filled with enough air. I panicked, flailing, unable to stay still for fear of wasting seconds, precious surface-reaching seconds. I opened my eyes. The salt stung. Shadows loomed around me, and I couldn't tell in my oxygen-deprived haze if they were seats or pieces of wings, or fish, or corpses.
The water stopped being cold.
No, no! I thought. I refuse! Anything, anything at all but this!
Another swirling blot of darkness passed so near to my face that I swatted at it reflexively. It was a strange and stupid reflex to give into while slowly dying, but the human body is a bizarre machine. The thing was slick and smooth and moving fast. My fingers tangled in some sort of line.
Jellyfish! I thought. I won't drown to death, I'll get stung! How's that for irony? But the sharpish tug I felt wasn't the jolting burn of a sting. It was more painful, my ring and pinkie fingers wrenched sideways. I felt, rather than heard, the pop.
The only thing I could hear was white noise – leftover static from the hissing shriek of tearing metal, or the throbbing deep call of the bottom of the ocean?
Does it actually matter?
The tug yanked at my whole arm and my three other fingers reflexively curled and held on. The world got blurry. I was zipping past the shadows now, up, up to somewhere where the water shaded from black to blue, then turquoise, then the ridiculously photoshopped teal of all the best travel brochures.
The shadow I held onto was desperately yellow and plastic.
And then all I could seem to worry about was getting decompression sickness.
* * *
I woke again when my head hit planking.
I coughed, gagged, coughed. I couldn't get in air. Air! My lungs burned and felt so wet all at once. Cold, fuck, cold. I turned my head and puked; sea water and fear and lousy in-flight beer.
"Here now," someone said, and I was swirling, twisting, falling head first again, and something hard against my stomach. And hands. My body halted abruptly. I let out the air I had so hard won in another hacking gag and puked again, vile and bitter and slimy. I coughed until I tasted only stomach acid, sucked in great hungry lungfuls in reedy gasps. It was like breathing through a straw. I gagged until I tasted the blood again, real and too chilly, and too damn cold to be coming out of a living body.
My fingers scratched against a lacquered surface, gouging at a smoothed wood rail slick with polish. I felt splinters go up under my nails. The ring and pinky fingers of my right hand burned and moved in disgusting, painful, eerie ways. There was a floor under my feet, wooden and scuffed, but it wouldn't stop shifting from side to side.
Something warm and dry dropped over my back, tucked in, and scrubbed at my hair. The friction caused delicious warmth and agonizing sensation against my scalp. Sensations chased each other down my spine but I couldn't tell if they were pleasure, or pain, or just feeling, jesus, feeling.
I was heaving still, but nothing more came out. Nothing but a long, high keening sound that I realized, slowly, was bubbling up as surely as any empty lifejacket.
Somebody had died.
Somebody hadn't tied on their life-vest properly, had slipped out the bottom, falling down, down, down, and the vest had gone up, up, up, and me, lucky, stupid me, had gotten tangled.
Someone was dead.
And I was not.
I said it out loud, around the blood, the puke, the acid, the salt, the terror: "I'm alive."
"You most definitely are, my dear," said the voice by my ear.
I turned into it, hot and breathing, and here. Human. Large, square hands, burning with life, life, ran down my back, over the nape of my neck, the goose pimpled skin under my ear. I folded my arms in, wrapped my good hand around my broken fingers and sobbed and shook. So fucking cold.
"M-my f-fingers," I said, but what I meant was, What the fuck just happened? and How can this be real? and Why me? And I hurt.
The pain was unreal. I'd never broken anything before in my life. His warm hand, a touch on my own hand, and that was all I could take. It was too much, too much. Being awake, being aware, existing...
I felt the darkness, crushing and cold as the bottom of the sea, and I fell in head first again, topsy-turvy, and let consciousness decide when it was time to bubble back to the surface.
* * *
It was slow and I fought it.
I wanted out of the darkness, quickly, now; and at the same time I wanted to stay in it forever.
Why? Are you feeling guilty? You got out of the water and someone else, some poor bastard--
The room around me creaked and bobbed. Dry. I found myself staring up at the ceiling, hewn beams and smoothly polished planking, small dark metal nails. I didn't remember opening my eyes.
Yet, I was awake, clearly. I sucked in an experimental breath, shallow and cautious. It did not taste of salt. It tasted of stale tobacco, of furniture polish and ripe cheese, of men closed in too long in one place. The back of my mouth tasted like vomit. My tongue was tender, a cut from my teeth blazing across the middle.
I shifted. My hair was wet, but I was dry, swaddled naked and cocoon-like in cool, slightly scratchy sheets that did not glimmer in the semi-darkness like I thought emergency foil blankets ought to. These were cloth, roughly the texture of burlap, but with a softer, finer sheet between my skin and the warm outer-blanket. The mattress was a sack, vaguely lumpy and pokey.
My right hand throbbed. It was exposed to the air, left out of the carefully tucked bedding. I tried to lift it and even the small shift of my arm was enough to send searing pain sizzling up my nerve endings. I muffled a whimpering yelp and decided that if my hand couldn't move up towards my eye level, then the rest of me should move down to it instead.
I sat up gently, wriggling my left hand free of the linens to steady myself against a wooden wall, to tug fretfully to keep the sheets high enough for decency. I closed my eyes, and when vertigo failed to present, opened them. The world under me continued to sway and bob and I choked back another desperate whimper.
Just stop, I thought. I just wanted solid ground under my feet again. Why won't you stop moving?
I looked down at my right hand. My last two fingers had been pulled flat and straight against a pair of splints, bound expertly with swaths of white cloth. There was no blood spotting the bandages - no bones had poked through the skin – but my fingers were hugely swollen and black with bruises. Why hadn't they been drained? Why wasn't I hooked up to a morphine drip? A saline IV? Where was the buzzer to call for a nurse?
The room pitched slightly and this time I couldn't withhold the pained mewl the shifting caused in my stiff and burning torso. My throat was tight, and the bottom of my ribs ached from the puking, from the pressure of the seatbelt, and from the burn of holding my breath so long.
"Miss?" a voice called from the other side of a door. I couldn't see the door, couldn't see much further than my own hands, the ceiling, but it clearly wasn't coming from inside the room. There was at least a thin wall between me and the maker of the sound.
"Yeah?" I croaked, and I realized suddenly how raw my throat was, how dry and awful it felt. Had I been screaming?
I was parched.
I had nearly drowned to death and I was thirsty.
The other person took this as an invitation to push into the darkness. A door swung inwards and harsh yellow sunlight cut into my eyes. I raised my right hand to block it before I could think, and whined again when the shift of muscle and bone protested insistently. I dropped it back to my lap and twisted my head away, squinting.
"Please, Miss, do not move," the voice said, and it dawned on me that it was male. The sharp clip of heeled boots across a wooden floor; the door swung closed, blocking off the harsh light.
Another light fumbled into being, a crackling spark struck on the end of a match, wavering and perilous, until it was touched to the oil-soaked safety of the wick of a lamp. For a moment it flared too bright, too orange – too much the colour of recycled oxygen catching fire – before it was shaded by an opaque hurricane glass dropped into position by long, nimble fingers. It created a halo, a safe haven of golden glow that deepened the shadows around us, insulated us from the darkness of the rest of the world. I was able to shut out, just for a second, the memory of what had just happened, trapping it in the darkness that was the rest of the ignorable world.
The face revealed in the new light was youngish, more or less thirty, and handsome in a sort of worried, sharp-nosed, doughy-chinned sort of way. His eyes were remarkably round, deep and brown like a deer's, and filled with more concern than I think I could digest just yet.
"How do you feel?" the man said, and dropped carefully onto a chair a respectable distance away, holding the shaded lamp by its base, perching it expertly on one knee.
"Disoriented," I admitted.
"Your accent," he said, and then cut himself off, as if noticing it was rude. It was this that made me realize that my ear drums had in fact popped in my quick and forceful accent to the surface, and that my problem with understanding him wasn't because of any sort of decompression ailment, but were due to the fact that he was speaking with a clipped British lilt. "Where, Miss, are you from? And how on Earth did you make it all the way out here?"
"All the way...?" I pressed my fingers against my eyelids - left hand - pushing my eyeballs back into their sockets until they hurt. It distracted me from the pain everywhere else. "Didn't you see the crash?"
"What crash? We've quite missed the battle. I'll admit that we have arrived too late to give Napoleon a taste of good British cannon. But just in the nick, it seems, to save a foreigner from a watery grave. Whose ship did you fall from?"
"Napoleon? Ship?" My brain suddenly felt too big for my skull, a sponge that had soaked up too much sea water, pushing to get out, cracking bone and oozing out of my ears.
He leaned forward, looked seriously into my face as if he could see some sort of mental malady in my eyes. His eyebrows, a thick chocolate-brown that matched the careful swatch of hair tousled artfully over his forehead, pulled down into a frowning vee.
"Who are you, my dear?"
"I'm Jessie. Jessie Franklin."
"Canadian. Who the hell are you?" And oh, he was surprised by the offensive word, the tone, but no more surprised than I was. I was hurting. I was scared. I was angry, but at whom?
He noticed and forgave. He sat back, fingers still curling and uncurling around the base of the brass lamp, and said, "Post Captain Francis Goodenough, at your service." He dipped his head at me, ridiculously formal, and before I could decide if I should dip mine back, he added: "You are aboard my ship, the HMS Lyre. We pulled you from the water."
Well shit, I thought, staring into the man's earnest face. When I said 'anything but this', I was really expecting...
Uh, anything but this.
Frey (The Accidental Turn series) skillfully portrays Jessie’s complicated emotional state as she copes with the assorted traumas incurred by her near-death experience and subsequent temporal stranding. Frey doesn’t shy away from the social realities of 1805 England, and Jessie’s frequent chafing at customs and expectations makes for good story fodder. However, the story’s beginning is often dark, including a subplot where Jessie must face off against her would-be husband, an unrepentant domestic abuser. This contrasts sharply with the charmingly sweet romance she later develops with Margaret, and despite the emotional payoff, the early heaviness asks much of readers.
Jessie’s relationship with Margaret will satisfy readers with its expressive richness, playful banter, and well-crafted sensual scenes—making the over-the-top villain and certain late-breaking dramatic moments feel almost unnecessary. Thankfully, Frey pulls all of the threads together to bring this tale home. Her attention to historical detail provides both grounding for Jessie’s experiences and a constant source of friction against her 21st-century upbringing, especially her out-and-proud bisexuality and sexually liberated nature. For those seeking a time travel romance with a distinctly queer feel, this will hit the spot.
Takeaway: This sweet yet complicated story’s overlap of Regency courtships, queer romance, and modern sensibilities will appeal to those searching for a drama with a happy ending.
Great for fans of: Olivia Waite’s The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, Catherine Friend’s The Spanish Pearl.