Hemlock: Tales of a Traveler by N. J. Layouni tells the story of Martha, a woman who slips on a stepping-stone in the Lake District and travels to somewhere else. It’s not the past, for reasons we’ll come to, but she’s clearly no longer in twenty-first-century England.
The place in which she wakes up bears a superficial resemblance to the Lake District, but is most definitely not in England. Her rescuer lives in a cave and is confused by her synthetic clothing and her smartphone. When he takes her to the nearest village, she’s horrified by what seems to have happened to her.
Martha refers to what she sees around her as medieval, but it’s not. It’s clearly a fantasy world. There’s no glass in the windows, but tea is drunk and it’s drunk from china cups. Men wear trousers and middle-class matrons wear mob caps. Most intrusive of all, the hero smokes tobacco and the heroine draws attention to it by telling him constantly that it will kill him.
After I started reading it, I discovered that Hemlock is the first part of a series (or serial, as Layouni calls it) and that it has a cliffhanger ending. If you’ve been with me for any length of time, you will know that I don’t like first books in series that don’t tie up at least some of the loose ends. I believe that a reader should be given some completion for having invested time and money in a novel. Layouni seems to believe this as well. There is a cliffhanger at the end of the novel, but enough of the sub-plots were concluded to allow me to put it down at the end without any frustration. At least two of the questions raised in the novel were answered and the relationship between the two main characters had reached a satisfactory point.
I enjoyed the novel. Martha’s slow acceptance of and adaptation to the world into which she has fallen is credible, as is the relationship between the two main characters.