The Ministry of Time

“I’m not going to insult you by feeding you aphorisms about omelets and broken eggs… you signed up for this job. You thought, as much as I did, that what we were doing was world-changing. That’s what you wanted, remember? Do you think the world changes by being asked politely? Or do you think there has to be risk?” She took a deep breath. All the emotions I normally watched her puree into professionalism were churning on her face. “I came here,” she said, “because you—because—I thought you would understand. Don’t you? Being the experiment.”

                                       From The Ministry of Time

Kaliane Bradley
Avid Reader Press

Love in different time zones

For a light and fun summer read, you might try this time travel fantasy. It offers a love story, humor, an enigmatic government agency, along with the requisite twists and turns of your standard mystery.

The unnamed narrator works for the Ministry of Time, which is conducting a top-secret experiment to bring people from the past into the present. (And someone thought this was a good idea?) Since the Ministry of Time is a top-secret government agency, it of course has a top-secret nefarious mission, which the narrator gradually discovers.

Called “expats,” the time travelers include a woman from the Great London Plague, another from the French Revolution, and an English officer from World War I. We are also taken aboard the Franklin Expedition (1845-47), the ill-fated British attempt to find the Northwest Passage. Its two ships, the Erebus and the Terror, became ice-locked for over a year and all the men and their officers perished.

All perished except one. Commander Graham Gore is brought into the present—through what mysterious means this happens or how the expats are chosen we are never told. The narrator is assigned as his “bridge” to help him acclimate to the 21st Century. And he definitely has some acclimating to do; for example, women’s attire (Good Lord, pants?) to say nothing of their attitudes (They really believe they’re equal to men? Extraordinary!), and don’t get him started on sex. Gore is aghast that the narrator so brazenly bares her calves. Has she no shame?

In spite of the difference in their age and ages, the narrator becomes romantically involved with Gore who is 200 years her senior. Questions of “age-appropriateness” aside, can the Victorian officer and the hip modern woman find a time zone in which they can live together? I mean seriously now, after the initial infatuation and sexual frisson, what would they have to talk about?

This fantasy reminds one how “historical dramas” are often really just modern sensibilities and attitudes dressed up in period costumes (Bridgerton anybody?) At the very least, this should certainly make one think twice about time travel. The visa and passport may be the least of your concerns.

For more about the Franklin Expedition, you might enjoy Paul Watson’s fascinating historical account, Ice Ghosts: The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin Expedition (2017), or Dan Simmons’ horror novel, The Terror (2007), which was made into a popular HBO series.

This review first appeared in The Columbia River Reader (June 15, 2024.) Reprinted with permission.