Luther is in Salem with some friends for Halloween. He spots a hot guy while in the mirror maze and before he knows it, Luther has crashed through the mirror and ended up in a barn in the middle of nowhere. His mirror man, Ezekiel, is there as well, and it doesn’t take Luther long to realize something is really wrong. The city of Salem as he last saw it is gone, and Luther realizes he has somehow traveled back in time to the Salem of 1692. Luther has no idea what to do, but fortunately Ezekiel takes pity on him and brings Luther home with him.
As a black man in a time when slavery is still legal, things are a little rocky for Luther. But Ezekiel’s family is kind enough to take him in, although a bit grudgingly on his father’s end. Luther has useless modern money and an even more useless cell phone and no idea what to do with himself here in historical Salem. Luther also figures out that he has arrived in Salem just on the cusp of the famous witch trials. Young girls are blaming witches for their mysterious ailments and people in the town are being rounded up and jailed. Luther knows enough history to be aware the situation is not going to end well, but he has no idea how to change the course of events.
Meanwhile, Luther and Ezekiel are getting to know one another better and Luther is surprised to find that Ezekiel has an interest in men. He has grown up a Puritan, and in a time when being gay isn’t even thought about, let alone an option. Ezekiel has been taught that what he is feeling is wrong and is surprised when Luther explains that in his time, being gay is much more accepted and men can even get married. Slowly the two men begin to explore being together, and are even falling for one another.
As things heat up with the witch trials, Luther knows he can’t sit idly by as people are killed. But is there any way that he and Ezekiel can change the course of history? And even if they succeed, is there any chance for a future between two men meant to live over 300 years apart?
I am a huge fan of time travel stories so I was eager to check out Predestination Unknown. The twist to this story is that it is not just a time travel book, but one where Luther travels to witness real events in history. Author Tanya Chris does a great job integrating the Salem witch trials into the story. We get to see it all first hand through Luther’s eyes as the town is whipped up into a frenzy, lead by those who are seeking to scapegoat the poor and underprivileged. It is an interesting perspective as Luther (and the reader) knows how things are going to go catastrophically wrong here. Many of the good people of Salem are convinced that things will all settle down before innocent people are killed, but Luther knows the truth. In fact, he knows exactly who is going to die. Chris does a nice job giving us the history of the events, while also weaving them into the fictional story and putting our MCs in the middle of the action.
We don’t just get the modern perspective on the witch trials here, but also a modern spin on issues of race, religion, and homosexuality. Luther arrives in Salem at a time when slavery is still legal, and he is pretty much the only black man in town. He faces discrimination and wariness from many of the townspeople in a way much more significant than he has at home. The other big hurdle is religion, as Ezekiel and his family are Puritans who believe some people are predestined by God to go to Heaven before they are even born. Ezekiel is certain he is not among the chosen due to his interest in men. He has been taught to follow along with the church Elders and not to question their authority. So Luther struggles here with his modern day perspective, trying to open up Ezekiel’s eyes to more liberal views on religion and homosexuality, but also aware that Ezekiel is a product of his time. Luther also recognizes his own complacency in his old life, including his willingness to sit back while others fight for what is right and just. Chris does a nice job tying all of these elements together, particularly as the men try to change history with the trials. How much of life is predestined? Can the future be changed or is it already decided? There are a lot of interesting issues brought up here and I think Chris handles them well.
The only area where the book suffered a little for me is in the relationship itself, at least in the early parts of the book. The issue is that we are exclusively in Luther’s head and Ezekiel comes across as an incredibly nice guy, but not much more than that. He is kind and sweet and generous, instantly accepts Luther, is open minded to new ideas, and is adorable as well. So he is basically this perfect guy, but he just felt kind of flat, without much dimension to his personality. So while I knew Luther found him attractive and we can understand why Luther likes him, I had trouble really feeling much in the way of a romantic connection between the men. It just felt too much like Luther’s adventure with Ezekiel playing the role of love interest, but not much personality of his own. As the story continued, Ezekiel gets a bigger role. He and Luther have conversations where he opens up to new ideas and begins to chafe under his old constraints. He also gets more involved in the trials and helping Luther stop them. So as the book continued, I began to connect more with Ezekiel and with the two of them as a couple. And by the end, I was totally rooting for them and found the ending of the story nicely romantic (and LOVED the epilogue).
So I found Predestination Unknown to be a really interesting time travel story. I love the way Chris incorporated both the real life history, as well as some really important social issues, into the story. Based on the cover tag, I am hopeful that there are more books along these lines to come, as I found this one really engaging and just loved the way it all came together in the end.