Anthropologist, Ryan Burke, has just been assigned a new job at an archaeological dig on the site of the Battle of the Little Big Horn. She arrives to find a chauvinistic boss who, according to one of her colleagues, is suspected of artifact theft. All this leaves Ryan with a disturbed, uneasy feeling, but she is there because of a passion for the Indian people and bravely stands her ground. She proves to be very caring and talented in performing her job of interviewing direct descendants of the participants in the battle. Early on, she is befriended by an elderly Lakota man named Charley Crying Wolf and his teenage grandson, Buddy. Charley is known among his people as a wise, holy man, and he also believes that Indian treasures are being looted. One day, he casually mentions to Ryan that it would be nice to travel back in time to set a trap for the thief. After Ryan's tent is destroyed in a freak summer storm, Charley kindly offers to let her borrow his tipi for shelter. Ryan had already been having unusual dreams of a wolf, but while sleeping in the tipi the wolf of her dreams turns into a man, a handsome Lakota warrior, who beckons her to come with him. After a couple of nights, Ryan no longer seems able to resist, and follows the warrior into the mist of her dream, only to awaken the next morning in the same place, but 120 years in the past.
Charley Crying Wolf also has an older grandson named Dillon who is a high-powered attorney, well-know among his people for his passionate fight for Indian rights. Dillon is prejudiced against and distrustful of whites in general. After gathering a mound of evidence regarding the artifact thefts, he travels to Washington D.C. to meet with a man from the Department of the Interior with the intention of getting them to shut down the dig. Dillon enters the meeting with a rather brusque attitude, but is later pleasantly surprised to discover that they are already on the case, working a sting operation, and are happy to have his input. Unfortunately, as Dillon is driving away from their offices, he is involved in a serious car accident that leaves him injured and in a coma. His injuries are not severe though, and in spite of many tests and examinations, the doctors can seem to find no reasonable explanation for his coma. In the meantime, Wolf, a Lakota warrior of the past and doppelganger for Dillon, suddenly falls unconscious in the midst of an important battle only to awaken with strange visions of things he doesn't understand and limited memory of the past.
Wolf returns from the battle to find a white woman hiding near his tipi. She tells him that her name is Ryan, and even though his prejudices make him angry and suspicious of her, he treats her kindly. Since he has few memories from before the battle, he thinks that she may be his wife, but he is thoroughly baffled by the fact that a white woman can speak fluent Lakota. After consulting with a holy man of the tribe, Wolf is convinced, though initially not pleased, that Ryan is a special gift from their god, Tunkasila, who has sent her to be his wife and to in some way help their people. It doesn't take long for Ryan to win Wolf over and vice versa, and they soon fall madly in love with each other. Ryan is certain that Charley somehow had a hand in catapulting her back through time to set the trap he had alluded to earlier, and she confides some of her purpose to Wolf who agrees to help her. There are dangers and obstacles to both her mission and their relationship in the form of another Lakota warrior who has been jealous of Wolf since they were children, and a Lakota woman who was to become Wolf's wife but now seeks revenge against the unwelcome intruder who has taken her place. Ryan also knows that the Battle of the Little Big Horn is just days away, and as she agonizes over whether to try to alter history, she also wonders if Charley will take her back to her own time once the trap is set. Ryan realizes that she has found the man of her dreams in the past and would gladly live out her days with him there in contented bliss, but those who wish ill against them are poised to steal away their newfound happiness.
A Love Beyond Time was Judie Aitken's first romance novel, and in my opinion, it was a very worthy debut. I have a strong interest in Native American history and culture and felt that she really brought these aspects of the story alive. I have read some authors in this romance sub-genre who merely skim the surface, peppering their stories with occasional details that could easily be gleaned from elementary schoolbooks, but never really capture the essence of the Indian people. Instead of the history and culture in A Love Beyond Time being reduced to a dry textbook lesson, it seemed to become a living, breathing part of the narrative, as important as any character. Ms. Aitken seems to have a talent for writing from the heart with a certain thoughtfulness and passion for telling Native American stories, and this was one of the facets of the book that I enjoyed most. I also always like a good time travel yarn, and this one was rather unique in that both the hero and heroine went back in time, and they did not meet until they arrived in the past, nor did they realize that the other was a time traveler. In addition, they each traveled to the past in different ways, which created both positive and negative elements for me. While I appreciate the idea of time travel in general, I tend to favor the straightforward type in which a character physically makes the time jump in the way that Ryan did. On the other hand, I am not a huge fan of only a person's spirit making the slide through time and switching bodies with a person on the other side as Dillon did. I guess this is just a little too mystical for my taste, but as long as I didn't think about this side of the story too much, the time travel aspect was still pretty enjoyable.
I found the hero and heroine to both be likable. Ryan was a strong woman who had made a place for herself in a "man's world", but didn't seem overly bothered by the idea of being placed into a more submissive role in the past. In fact, she would have been content with giving up her career and everything she had worked for in the present to stay in the past with Wolf. I really liked this balance in her character. She also had refused to give up on the notion of finding her one true love and marrying for love alone, which was a quality I found admirable. Although the story began with Dillon (aka Wolf in the past) being fairly angry and prejudiced against whites, I appreciated his willingness to change and accept that not all whites were bad. In spite of his initial wariness at finding Ryan in the Lakota camp of the past, he was open-minded enough to believe that she really had been sent by Tunkasila ("God") to help them. Wolf was also very kind, gentle and protective of Ryan, and a strong leader among his people, all things that I liked about him. In the present, I thought Dillon was very respectable as a man who had risen above his circumstances to become a successful attorney and who was giving his talents back to his people. The only thing that I could really find fault with is that Wolf and Ryan's relationship was not fully developed, in my opinion. Since they did not even meet until about one third of the way into the book, the romance aspect relied heavily on a love-at-first-sight scenario which is not exactly my favorite way of bringing a hero and heroine together. Sometimes I simply feel that this plot device is overused in the romance genre, though because of the mystical element surrounding the entire story, I was able to forgive it's use in this particular book to some degree. Though the romantic scenes were quite lovely and written well, I just felt that incorporating more of them would have helped to build the relationship in a more believable and engaging way.
Additionally, there were many other parts of the story which I found appealing. It had many strong secondary characters including Dillon's grandfather, Charley Crying Wolf and brother, Buddy, in the present who I found to be very lovable, as well as, Eagle Deer, and his wife, Pretty Feather, from the past who were the most loyal of friends to Wolf and every bit as accepting of the strange wasicu ("white") woman who suddenly appeared in their camp. I also liked the use of many Lakota words and phrases scattered throughout the narrative. They always had translations or context meaning, and I really felt that they added to the realism of the culture in which the story takes place. I likewise enjoy mysteries and this book had one surrounding the theft of the Indian artifacts. I must admit though, that it was fairly easy for me to figure out who the perpetrator was, and the only thing that remained a mystery for me until the reveal was the motive. I found the archaeological dig setting of the present and the Little Big Horn setting of the past, as well as Ryan's career as an anthropologist to be unique and interesting elements. One thing that I really respected was Ryan agonizing over the decision of whether to share with the Indians her knowledge of events yet to come, and if she did, how it might affect the fabric of time. I found this to be a very clever and logical position for the author to take, especially in light of Ryan's background as a scientist. Similarly, I found Ryan's anger toward Charley after returning from the past to be a very realistic reaction under the circumstances. Overall, I thought that A Love Beyond Time was a very intelligent and well-researched book that was an impressive first effort from Ms. Aitken's pen. This was also the first of her books that I have read, but I will definitely be open to reading more of her works in the future.
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