Be Warned: Minor spoilers ahead.
I bought this based on the suggestion that the book that was doing something unique with time travel. I began digging in right away and to the book's credit, it was an easy read that I finished after 3 days of casual reading. I wish I could say I liked the book more than I did.
To start, it was not as unique as I indicated. Both the recommendation and the cover information agreed on this point. That isn't the reality. Other books have done almost identical things with time travel. As far as I can tell, the main thing that sets this book apart is its agenda. I will get to that in due time. There were a lot of problems for me with elements of this novel.
For starters, the basic nature of a plot is that it answers a question posed early on in the story. The book doesn't offer a strong question initially beyond "will she join this group?". That's answered right away. If we instead assume that the question of the story is what we read on the cover, it doesn't offer a satisfying answer. At the end of the book, most of our questions remain unanswered. At best, we must make the same (often unrealistic) leaps of logic that the characters made. Okay, so no decent plot, but things do happen and for the early part of the book, they are interesting.
The book suffers from several more fatal flaws, however. One of the most basic things an author needs is to show, don't tell. Much of this book ends up telling. That doesn't help at all with feeling invested. At times, the things told to us aren't even substantiated. For example, there is no evidence ever given to even hint at the reason a character dies early on. We're told by a secondary character that they believe it is because of the company. Even though it is pivotal in moving the story forward, it is never actually confirmed. Speculation isn't the same as a hint that it might be true. It is the character asking herself 'what if' over and over.
Another problem is that the settings get explored in a minimalist manner. Some things were interesting. This includes setting-specific language for time travel (if distracting at times). Such points of interest were minimal. I expect settings in a time-travel novels to be vivid. Except for the first time-period, the majority of time periods were bland at best. The only redeeming aspect is that the choice of time/place was often less common. That meant these were less explored by other works of fiction. I partly suspect that the choice to make only the first location vivid was a plot device. It seems intended to fix that first location as an ideal in your mind. If so, it failed. The locations traveled to were thin veils of cardboard. They existed with only hints of their true natures painted on. The settings were all caricatures, which brings me to the characters themselves.
Oh my. Characters in this book hurt to read. Some of them were fleshed out a bit, but most of them were painfully one dimensional. They acted as plot devices, doing what needed done to move the story forward. Many of the characters were so interchangeable that I can't even remember their names. You could swap one out for the other without any real change to the story. The worst offenders were folks from the future. Walker in specific was too idiotic to be believed. The author tried to explain her away later in the book, but I couldn't buy it. People so weak-minded that she was one of their operatives never would have managed time travel. At least from my perspective.
This plot-device level of idiot behavior appears most towards the end. When our protagonist is in the future, she gets away with things inconceivable in any era. A society that can calculate the effects of moving a vase in ancient times on the present would do better. It wasn't lack of common sense, the team of scientists was outright stupid in behavior. That they not only don't notice her presence, but seem to believe she is one of them is beyond belief. It is a society based on orders and strict controls. Someone just appearing among them without warning... ugh. Someone who seems so clueless especially. I could go on, but I have a lot more ground to cover here.
The most fleshed out of the characters is the protagonist. That isn't a shock of course. What is a shock is how many times I felt like she was a plot device too? She is a pawn used to push a message. She is not missed by the male boss despite her impressive skills. She is noted as growing up anti-religious. Almost immediately embraces using phrases like 'Thank the Goddess'. This while still implying she isn't invested in a faith. This leads to another major flaw in the book. Agenda trumps story.
Our protagonist at one point seems shocked that another woman isn't a feminist. Out of nowhere mind you, though it became clear the novel itself is feminist. It was beyond her conception that this other woman wasn't a feminist. Male-led societies are all terrible, female-led societies are all near-utopias. Any flaws in women societies get downplayed. It's implied that any goodness in male societies is because of the women. The only male character who isn't brutish or evil dies for supposedly supporting the Core (a group working against the company). When a man does something terrible, it is his nature. When a woman does something unforgivably evil, not so much. The protagonist begins to rationalize why it wasn't her fault.
Christianity gets the same treatment. It's an evil patriarchy. Rhe only 'Christian' group worth anything is one that feel the God that created the earth is evil. The author cherry-picks the times, societies and people who most fit these concepts. For the first half of the book, I kept holding out hope that a balance would occur. It never did. You may not disagree, but the world isn't so black and white. There are good and bad people alike in all walks. Men and woman can be terrible leaders or great ones. People of any religion can do evil or good.
The company gets a vague hint of sympathy at the very end, showing that men and women work together as equals. The future improves by actions taken in the past. Too little, too late honestly. More so because the protagonist immediately undoes half of what got improved. That is the greatest frustration with this book. All along, there have been the hints at a much better book buried in the idea. Something that feels real. Something that draws you into it and leads you to sympathy rather than beats you over the head with an agenda.
This review has gotten far longer than I intended when I started. I was going to further go into some of the logical errors and inconsistency issues with the time travel. It's enough to say the company could end the resistance with twenty minutes of consideration. This statement's based on the information the author has given us by the end of the book.
For all of these flaws, I stayed with the book and stayed active in reading it. The unforgivable sin was actually the ending. The last few chapters feel rushed, as if written shorter than the author wanted for the sake of a deadline. I can't say how true that is. The victory, such as it was, was pretty hollow. All around, the ending was unsatisfying and without substance. Nothing of value got resolved and it felt more like a plug at turning this into a series. I am not against a cliffhanger ending leading into other books. I am against doing it without first resolving at least something of value in your first book. To me, a feminist deciding to embrace feminism even further a valuable resolution. At least not by itself.
As an author, I know I am not perfect. Even this review contains flaws and I won't deny it. A good editor can fix some things, but they can't fix a flat story. If you get a copy handed to you, read it. Don't spend much money on it. This was my first book by the author and I kept wondering how she had won awards for her other works. If this had been the first thing she had ever written, she might have disappeared into obscurity. As it stands, I am not going to be looking into any of her other works. This example of her writing has turned me off to her as someone I would want to read regularly.