Monday, 14 February 2011
Review: TimeRiders: The Doomsday Code by Alex Scarrow
Liam O’Connor should have died at sea in 1912. Maddy Carter should have died on a plane in 2010. Sal Vikram should have died in a fire in 2026. But all three have been given a second chance – to work for an agency that no one knows exists. Its purpose: to prevent time travel destroying history...
In 1993 British computer hacker Adam Lewis finds his name in a coded manuscript that is almost one thousand years old. How did Adam's name get in there... and why? Confronted by Adam in 2001, the TimeRiders travel back to Sherwood Forest in 1193 to discover the origins of the ancient message. But when a strange hooded man appears interested in the same thing, they begin to wonder what terrible threat this cryptic link from the past holds for the future...
It is no secret that I loved the first two book in Alex Scarrow's TimeRiders series. As a long time fan of alternate history stories, and What If....? speculative writing, I thought that he did a great job of delivering these concepts to an 11+ audience. As I picked up the third book in the series though I felt a small degree of nervousness - would it be as good as the previous two? Would I feel obliged to like it and write a good review for it? If I didn't like it, would I be able to get away with not writing a review at all? I often feel this way when picking up a 'third book in series' or trilogy that I have so far loved, but this sense of mild trepidation was heightened a little more than usual as in my review of TimeRiders: Day of the Predator, I stated "I can honestly say that I have not been this excited about a series for a long time." It was with no small amount of relief then that having started reading it before going to bed I looked at the clock to discover it was suddenly very late and I was 150 pages into the book. I had been pulled head first into the story and I am happy to say that it is easily as good as the previous two books, and probably the best in the series so far.
The Doomsday Code starts with a very minor time shift back in 2001, just a film that shouldn't exist being advertised outside a New York cinema. A quick spot of research leads to Maddy and Becks making a quick journey back to 1994 Norwich, but this journey sets in motion a chain of events that sees Liam and the genetically engineered Bob and Becks travelling back in time to 1194, but unlike previous books they are not entirely sure what their ultimate objective is this time.
You will have to bear with me as I try to explain, as this is the most complicated plot to date in this series, and I need to be careful not to give away any spoilers. In their journey to Norwich, Maddy meets computer hacker Adam Lewis, a techie who found, somewhat impossibly, his name hidden in a code manuscript dating back to the 12th Century, a manuscript that no-one else has ever managed to decode. Maddy inadvertently leaves behind a clue to her 2001 origins, and Adam spends the next seven years of his life ensuring that he is in the right place, at the right time to meet Maddy again. However, because of the secrets that Maddy discovered in the previous books the team instead feel that the document may actually contain a message from another TimeRiders team and feel that there is no other option but to send someone back to 1194 to investigate. What then follows is an adventure that involves the legend of Robin Hood, Richard the Lionheart, his younger brother Prince John and the quest for The Holy Grail. As in the previous books, even the slightest deviation from the true historical timeline has significant consequences for the future, although this time around the lives of Maddy and Sal are not put in quite so much jeopardy.
See.... I told you it was complicated, and yet Alex Scarrow seemingly carries it off with ease. I can't imagine the hours/days/months that must have gone in to plotting a story like this, let alone one that is planned to span across nine books, and Alex Scarrow's editor must spend even more hours checking for inconsistencies, plot holes and other continuity errors. And it is a job they have both done exceedingly well, as I no point did I find myself questioning an action or spot of dialogue that did not add up. However, this is not a book to pick up and read without first having read the first two in the series, or you will find yourself becoming confused very quickly.
The characters that the author has created are once again a delight to read. Liam, being the field agent, is already fully developed following his adventures in the previous two books, although this time we begin to see another side of him as he finds himself in an era that he actually likes, and would possibly even consider staying in if given the chance. Maddy is also slowly becoming more fleshed out; as the appointed leader of the group she is privy to a number of secrets that she has kept from the other two, and as such she feels under pressure and often wonders whether she is good enough for the role. Sal is still something of an enigma, and in The Doomsday Code we probably see even less of her than previously, although we do see her starting to resent the fact that Maddy is not telling her the full story. In the interview that Alex Scarrow did for The Book Zone last year he promised that Sal "has a VERY important part to play in the story" so I am really looking forward to that in future books.
If you like time travel stories, and demand a high action content in the books you read then this is the series for you. I would like to add though that I am rapidly starting to develop a strong dislike for Alex Scarrow. How dare he end this book on yet another massive cliffhanger! Not the kind of cliffhanger that has the reader fearing for the life of a character, but one that has you questioning a lot that has gone before, and everything that is still to come. And we have to wait until August to find out what happens next, and I am really looking forward to this as it is going to be set during the American Civil War. TimeRiders: The Doomsday Code was released on 3rd February and my thanks go to Puffin for sending me a copy.