As soon as I heard the premise for For All Time in late 2020, I knew I needed this book in my hands stat. I’m happy to report that it meets all of my expectations! In her debut novel, Shanna Miles has crafted a well-written, YA version of Erykah Badu’s “Next Lifetime” that has readers contemplate the role of true love and reincarnation.
Finding your true love as a teenager is a given in many a YA story, and just as often is met with several trials and tribulations. For All Time is no exception to this truism, as the protagonists of this story, Tamar and Fayard, are interwoven in turmoil within each timeline they experience. In their earliest timeline, Fayard is a member of Mansa Musa’s retinue when they stop in the village where Tamar is enslaved to a noble African household. During the present, they are seventeen year olds in modern day South Carolina trying hard to ignore what Tamar’s fatal diagnosis means for the duration of their relationship. In 2260, they are strangers who find themselves at the same lunar base for training and exploration who are forced to depend on each other for survival. Each iteration of their lives has a sense of wrongness jostling with the rightness of their need to be together. Neither character ever truly remembers all of the memories of their past lives, but yearns for an understanding of their situations that they both feel could be answered if they were just able to piece it together.
The fusion of star-crossed lovers, mysterious life circumstances in each reincarnation, and fantasy strongly blend together while turning the typical YA fantasy romance trope on its head. By placing the weight of the plot on the ill-fated love Tamar and Fayard share in each setting, we are forced to consider where it is that their decisions to follow love go wrong. Fayard’s headstrong adherence to the idea that loving Tamar could never not be right, means that he spends much of the book focusing on making a life where they can be together. He ignores the signs that Tamar is trying to distance herself from him in the present, going out of his way to make their love story happen even when it seems she no longer wants him in her life. His consistency in turning towards their love is only matched by the equal energy he gives towards avoiding any other expectations for his future in each timeline. In the 1920s his uncle goes through a lot of trouble to get him a position as a train porter only for Fayard to give it up in order to chase a girl he just met on his first train ride, Tamar. Tamar consistently shows a regard for the ways society stymies her ambitions and tends to allow for this to guide her movements in each lifetime we see, and typically avoids a relationship with Fayard because of these restrictions and underlying sense of wrong. Despite the epic nature of their relationship and the ability of a tarot reader within the present day timeline as well as a prophecy from the 2260 timeline showing that there is more to her dreams of different worlds than she gives credence to, Tamar shows little faith in there being more to their shared story—lacking faith where Fayard seems to only move with it.
While there were times where I felt as if the description of the settings and events left me with little understanding of the full scope of each timeline, generally I enjoyed the way the book flowed from timeline to timeline. If you are a fan of futurist tales, takes on historic happenings, as well as fantasy mixing across time streams (ahem lovers of the Loki or Doctor Who TV series) then For All Time may just be the Black romance to fill the voids this shows have left unfulfilled.