The Palace Of The Stars by Karina McRoberts

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This richly realised and highly evocative novel will appeal to crime, mystery, and romance readers alike. In 2014, Michael Harker, rookie ex-cop, has been badly beaten but is determined to re-invent himself as a crime fighter. While convalescing with the spry, quirky bookshop owner Mari Linden, an earthquake opens a time portal and Mike finds himself over a hundred years in the past. He befriends JT Gordon, the magnanimous impresario of The Palace of the Stars, a grand musical hall theatre. Mike battles with strange shifts in consciousness, sleepwalking, restrictive dress standards, and the strict morals of the time. And, his love for a beautiful dancer and stage musician, Mae Belle. Mae has a strange bond to her on-stage magic partner, the mysterious Chan Li. Her off-stage lover? The mother of his young children? She says no, but Mike hears otherwise. Should he stay or go back? Can he go back? Does he have any right to take Mae with him, even if he can convince her he’s not a nut case? Before Mike can sort out this dilemma, Mae begs him to solve a series of gruesome murders. Mike joins with his friends from the Palace to trap the murderer, but realises no justice will be done and he must make a horrible choice. In the present day, Mari must deal with a cunning book thief and a bureaucrat who would shut down her shop. If the building’s condemned, the portal will close and Mike will never be able to return! Welcome to the Palace – you’re in for a treat!

My thoughts

This is a very interesting book to try and review because I’m not sure what genre to put it under. It has elements of fantasy, history, romance, and murder.

Mari is an ex nurse who now has a bookshop called Book Nook and also does work for the “Red Cross (though this isn’t really explained) through which she has taken in a young man, Michael. Mari was without a doubt my favourite character. As a nurse myself I was convinced the author must have been a nurse herself to write her and the hospital scene so convincingly.

Michael is given into Mari’s care after waking up from a six month long coma, with no apparent next of kin and amnesia. All that is known about him is that he was a rookie policeman who had been badly beaten. Mari is warned he will be difficult and he certainly proves himself to not be very likeable, to the extent that Mari is a bit afraid of him.

Mari finds a portal in her bookshop which she wants to explore herself, but can’t because it causes her pacemaker to play up. So Michael goes through and immediately discovers he can’t get back because in the era of 1904 Mari’s bookshop had not yet been built.

The rest of the book is divided between Mari’s vigil in her bookshop, waiting for Michael to be able to return, and Michael’s experiences in 1904 York where he is taken in by the owner of the Palace, an entertainment hall.

I really enjoyed Mari’s chapters, possibly because I found her very real and relateable in many ways. I didn’t feel as invested in Michael’s as he falls in love at first sight with a woman in one of the acts, but I did enjoy his story arc. The pieces of history that were skilfully inserted into the story were very interesting.

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