I managed to snag a copy of Lauren’s début at Walkercon when I was down in London a few months ago, and the concept definitely intrigued me, even though I knew it was pretty heavy on the romance front, it worked in some interesting sci-fi elements to give it a very unique angle (also, I swear I’m getting better at romance – I must be getting soft in my old age). All that, combined with a really pretty jacket at some rave reviews made me pick it a couple of weeks ago when I had no idea what to read next…
The Next Together tells the story of the fated pair Kate and Matthew, who a destined to be together. But things aren’t that simple – the story of Kate and Matthew takes place across centuries, because they keep being reborn over and over, meeting again and again throughout history and falling in love, only to be cruelly torn apart each time. The story takes place in 3 different time frames, following 3 different sets of Kate and Matt in different key points in history – in 2039, in an insular England cut off from Europe by a third world war several years earlier (Matt and Kate are university students); in 1745, during the Jacobite invasion of England (Kate is a lady of high standing in Carlisle, Matt is one of her servants); and finally in 1854, during the Crimean War (Matt is one of the first war journalists for the Times, and Kate is his assistant, posing as a boy). Each time their presence in the world changes the course of history – but what makes them so important, and who keeps bringing them back? All they ever want is to be able to live a single life together, instead of being forced to watch the other die repeatedly through the halls of time.
One of the first things that struck me about The Next Together is how well Lauren has fleshed out the quirks of her characters – particularly Kate, who is allowed to really breathe and flourish in the story in a way that so many leading ladies are sadly not allowed to. She deeply loves Matt, and that’s always obvious in her behaviour, but she’s also not defined by it – she’s the constant source of wit and intelligent dialogue throughout the story. The time landscape of 2019 is told in the story as well, through notes back and forth between that time’s Matt and Kate (though we never hear their story first hand), and in these their two personalities are really brought to life, which helps flavour them throughout all the other time frames. Each time, Kate is beautifully quirky and unashamedly funny and deliberately irritating ina way that so few authors ever let their characters be – which is a shame, because it’s so endearing to have her be so silly and fun with Matt, who is much drier and more serious, meaning they play off each other perfectly. Also, why we’re on the subject of characters, I have to mention Kate’s two grandmothers – such a simple move of wonderful diversity to throw into a story and evidence that it really is that easy to bring representation into your story.
Lauren uses artefacts and illustrations to add an extra layer of depth and historical accuracy to the story, and they also help break up the plot really well, setting the scene of each time landscape perfectly without requiring huge amounts of historical explanation within the text. As well as this, she also jumps between each section regularly, to avoid them getting too bogged down and repetitive, and giving the plot a sense of vibrant energy and direction. The whole story escalates really well, ramping up the tension and adding plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader really invested in each of the plot threads, which is no small feat, but towards the end, Lauren starts to work in subtle references to unknown outside influences on the story that are never quite explained, but really add a brilliant sense of depth and intrigue to the universe – I distinctly got the impression of a world that had much more than we got to see, and that makes it feel so much more interesting and made the history of it so much more tantalising. In fact, I’ve just heard via Twitter that a book two is already in the works, so I can’t wait to see some of the darkness to Matt and Kate’s world that we never see directly in The Next Together.
Thanks for reading, as always.
P.S. The Next Together is out in September, but you can pre-order it here.