Denise Giardina has been a favorite author of mine, introducing a number of fascinating topics in her novels. Fallam’s Secret takes her on a new tack involving wormholes and time travel -- a new twist on an old theme, given more recent scientific evidence.
Poverty-stricken Carlo Falcone comes to West Virginia in 1918 to escape the Black Hand of Italy. He returns to Sicily in WWII; upon his return to West Virginia, he buys a plot of land on Fallam Mountain, there fashioning a home in the style of his beloved homeland for his family. One Christmas Eve, a tragic fire destroys their home, killing Carlo’s wife and five of their children. Only Carlo and the baby, Lydde, are left alive. The mother’s body is found in the ashes, but the other bodies are never found. There is no reasonable answer for the absence of the children’s bones. Carlo spends the rest of his life searching for his children, believing they have been kidnapped. Lydde he leaves behind to be raised by her aunt and uncle. A heartbroken Carlo eventually dies in a car accident.
As Lydde grows up, attends school and graduates from college, she develops a lifelong love of Shakespearean theater. Living in London, Lydde is an actor until she takes a position as a teacher, a director of Shakespearean plays. Her Uncle John begs Lydde to come home, hinting of a discovery he has made but unwilling to divulge the details. Unfortunately, Lydde doesn’t make it home until her uncle’s death.
Closed up in his study, Lydde searches through John’s personal papers until she finds a key with specific directions on passing through an opening in a cave Uncle John discovered years earlier and later hid with a building. Following the directions, Lydde falls through time like Alice down the rabbit hole, landing in a village in 1657 England. There she meets her Uncle John and, shockingly, they are both younger -- she in her early twenties -- a happy revelation.
Through quantum physics and imagination, John explains about “wormholes” in space and “thin places” where one dimension may be accessible to another. These are no longer wild theories, but seriously discussed in the world of physics; in fact, John may have stumbled upon a piece of the puzzle.
Giardina maintains a believable storyline through much of the first half of the book, but once Lydde finds herself in England in the seventeenth century, the tale takes on the ambience of a fairy tale. If viewed as a time-traveling fantasy, Lydde’s adventures work well enough, morphing into a romance novel once she meets the man of her dreams, a sort of Robin Hood redux, and enters into a passionate, fated romance. Lydde must make a critical decision about traveling through time for her own safety, but at this point the story is formulaic at best.
The historical details in Fallam's Secret are accurate, but the plot device is not as interesting as I have come to expect from the accomplished Giardina. The premise is certainly interesting -- time travel, wormholes and arguments for the continuity of worlds. However, Giardina offers no conclusions, giving the reader instead a tale of romance and escapism.