The standard time-travel plot turns on what might be changed by the futuristic know-how of an intrepid time traveler--typically a mechanically-minded man who "invents" modern weapons, medical technology, and so on. In Household Gods, Tarr and Turtledove make their time traveler a 1990s Los Angeles lawyer with no special technical or historical knowledge.
Nicole Gunther-Perrin is a single mother of two. Today her daycare provider's quitting. At the office, her male colleague has made partner and she hasn't. The kids get sick, the microwave dies, and her ex goes on vacation with his girlfriend. Staring at a votive plaque of Liber and Libera, Roman household gods, Nicole falls asleep wishing she lived in the past, surely a better and easier time. She awakens in second-century Carnuntum, a town near the Roman Empire's borders. Death, disease, and dirt are commonplace. Slavery and corporal punishment are facts of life, and war, pillage, and rape are constant threats. Mere survival is hard work. Though Nicole adapts and even enjoys some of her experience, she longs to return to her own time. The problems she left behind no longer seem unconquerable.
Tarr and Turtledove know their history and bring the reader into a past as vividly real as Nicole's Los Angeles. They create genuine, sympathetic characters whose thoughts and feelings are true to their era and deliver a satisfying conclusion. Household Gods should be on the shelf next to L. Sprague de Camp's Lest Darkness Fall and John Maddox Roberts's SPQR mysteries. --Nona Vero