Rating: 4.25 stars
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Trick of Time is a romantic time-travel story about Ted Ennis, a broken man who works in the Criterion Theater. Besides work, he has little else in his life, since his husband and parents were killed in a car accident a year and a half previous. One night, he sneaks out during a performance for a smoke break, and is transported back to 18th century Victorian England. Ted’s confused, thinking he’s stepped onto a movie set, but quickly realizes this is a much more realistic depiction of the time than could ever be recreated for a set.
Ted meets a young man who is leaning up against a lamppost as he walks out into this unknown time. Jem is a rentboy, and quickly propositions Ted. Ted, who hasn’t had a sexual experience since losing his spouse, finds himself receiving some quickie oral sex from Jem in a dirty dark alley. He doesn’t have any money that will do Jem any good, so Ted promises to return the following evening to pay him. After stopping off at an antique gold store, Ted tracks Jem down the next night. They start to make a connection with one another, and Ted is especially touched by Jem’s ready acceptance of his story of the future and the reason for his visits.
One evening, Ted stays out a little too late and finds out there are specifications for his time travel which he hasn’t followed. He’s unable to return to his real life, and spends 24 hours with his Victorian rentboy. It’s during this time that the two of them create a lasting bond, and Ted realizes that, crazy at it is, he wants Jem to be a permanent part of his life. When he promises to return once the next play begins production, he thinks he’ll see Jem in just a few days. Instead, he realizes his time travel is contingent upon things that are out of his control, and he has to work really hard to create the perfect environment to be able to return to his lover.
In order to truly enjoy this story, it requires a complete suspension of disbelief. Not only is there time travel, it seems to be a bit arbitrary, so the plot device seems to be based mostly upon convenience to the story rather than an essential part of the world-building. This is not a complaint. Sometimes, you just need a sappy romantic story that may not make a lot of sense but that tugs at your heartstrings and, in that regard, this story fits that description. It’s romantic and sweet and a heartwarming tale of a man who finds love after mourning the death of every person he held dear. It’s a story of redemption for a man who sells his body to survive and then finds his savior and lover quite by accident.
This is a love at first sight story, if ever there was one. It takes a dirty blowjob in a back alley before Ted is captivated and well on his way to falling in love. Jem falls for Ted after a particularly emotional moment hours after they first meet. Ordinarily, I’d be put off by this, but within the context of the story, I just threw it in amongst the rest of the fantasy. I’m not exactly sure how any of it works, honestly — the time travel, the insta-love, the fascinating yet not entirely accurate details of the 18th century — but I liked the characters enough to let myself get swept away in it and enjoy the story for what it was.
Both men have a magnetic combination of vulnerability and strength, and this makes you want the best for them. When things go tragically wrong (this part in particular taking on a very “Somewhere in Time” quality), it’s upsetting, and I read in a frenzy until I received my HEA and could breathe a sigh of relief. Not every author can create that kind of emotional intensity, and I think JL Merrow did a great job of making us care about these two men and their situation, however implausible.
This is a great little novella that is emotional and sweet in all the right ways. I recommend it for when you want to get swept away into a different time, full of romance and possibilities.