Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier. Translated from German by Anthea Bell.
16-year-old Gwyneth (Gwendolyn in the original German book) has grown up living life as a normal kid, except that she now has to keep an eye out for her cousin Charlotte. Charlotte, glamorous and sophisticated, has been trained all her life to prepare her to be a time traveler. Except that Gwyneth turns out to be the one with the time travel gene, something she never wanted. Time travel is dangerous unless controlled – Gwyneth ends up in the same place but a different unknown period in the past for an unpredictable length of time, with only a few minutes of nausea and dizziness for preparation. To counteract them, the secret organization known as the Guardians trains time travelers and owns the Chronograph, a clockwork machine that can send time travelers to a planned place for a planned length of time. For that reason, Gwyneth’s mother takes Gwyneth to the Guardians, despite a distrust she hasn’t explained. It turns out that Gwyneth is the Ruby, the last of twelve known time travelers, each represented by a jewel. The other time traveler in her generation is handsome 18-year-old Gideon de Villiers. The previous two time travelers, close friends with Gwyneth’s mother, fell in love and are hiding in the past with the only other existing Chronograph. The Guardians want to send Gideon and Gwyneth on missions to get blood samples from all of the previous time travelers, which were lost when the original Chronograph. When all twelve samples are present, something will happen – but what? Should Gwyneth trust the Guardians, or Lucy and Paul, the couple she’s never met but whom her mother trusted? Though it’s fairly clear that Lucy and Paul are Good Guys, Gwyneth and her best pal and research buddy Lesley, have yet to figure out why Lucy and Paul distrusted the Guardians enough to give up their lives in the present. There’s a slowly percolating romance between Gwyneth and Gideon, which helps nicely to make Gwyneth’s choices harder, as Gideon has no reason to distrust the Guardians.
Despite the dangers of time travel and the potential evil nature of the Guardians, the book never gets bogged down in heaviness. (I think the German cover conveys this better.) There’s the romance, more fun than fraught; Lesley and Gwyneth’s friendship, and – I really loved this part – costumes. The Guardians hire a full-time French costume designer, whose sole job is to make historically accurate clothing for each of the trips back in time, which are all described in detail. I really liked the original German covers, but I guess you can’t have everything. This is the first of a trilogy, all of which are now published in Germany but which I guess are taking some time to be translated. The translation is done by the inestimable Anthea Bell, who also translated the Inkheart books as well as tons of others. The time travel, romance and history combined to make this a quite lovely book for me, and I’m now anxiously waiting for the next installments to arrive.