Monday 8 February 2010

Review: TimeRiders 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 2029. Yet moments before death, someone mysteriously appeared and said, ‘Take my hand . . .’ But Liam, Maddy and Sal aren’t rescued. They are recruited by an agency that no one knows exists, with only one purpose – to fix broken history. Because time travel is here, and there are those who would go back in time and change the past. That’s why the TimeRiders exist: to protect us. To stop time travel from destroying the world....

It is only 8th February and already I know that come the end of the year choosing a favourite book of 2010 is going to be an impossible task. One month into the year and I have already read so many outstanding new books, and TimeRiders is no exception.

The 'About the author' blurb on Amazon says the following about Alex Scarrow: '....has written a number of successful thrillers and several screenplays, but it's YA fiction that has allowed him to really have fun with the ideas and concepts he was playing around with when designing games.' and the fun he had writing the book is definitely reflected in the story. As a teacher I know when a student really enjoys my subject as it is reflected in the quality of their work, and on the evidence of TimeRiders I would suggest that Alex Scarrow most definitely enjoys writing for young people. This is a superb action/adventure story, with great characters, a fast-moving and tense plot, snappy dialogue and plenty of humour. 

I think I may have mentioned in a previous post that I hated History at school as a result of a poor teacher, but these days I love it. In my book collection I have several of the 'What If...' books, where historians write short speculative articles about what would have happened if certain events in history had not happened, or had happened differently (e.g. What if... the Spanish Armada had been victorious?), and this is exactly what Alex Scarrow does with TimeRiders - in this case focusing on how different our world might be if Hitler had not tried to invade Russia, and had instead focused his forces on the invasion of the Western Front, leading ultimately to victory in Europe and eventually the United States. This makes for a fascinating storyline, as members of the team who remain in 2001 are placed in an incredibly dangerous situation due to a timeline that changes as a result of the intervention of the team members who initially go back to 1956. Confused? Believe me, you won't be.... Alex Scarrow handles it far better than I am in this review.

Time travel has obviously been seen many times in books, TV and movies, but the concept of 'rescuing' young people who are about to die in their own time, and then teaming them up to deal with others who would change time for their own nefarious reasons, is a new one to me. This premise relies on the notion that significant changes made in the past create potentially unstoppable, world-destroying tidal waves that race into the future causing massive changes and devastation. The fact that these young people were about to die anyway causes a tiny ripple, with little effect at all, making their recruitment have little impact on the future timeline. The other element of this story's take on time travel that I found refreshingly original was the splitting of the team so that some are fighting battles in the past, whilst the others battle away in their present, so we have action going on in two different periods of time.  

The three heroes in question are recruited at the very beginnning of the books. Liam is an Irish steward on the 'mighty' Titanic, Maddy a computer geek travelling on a plane in 2010 that is about to be blown up by a bomb, and Sal a 13 year old from an unrecognisable Mumbai of 2026. They have been selected due to their various individual talents; they are not super-heroes, they do not have any form of martial arts training, they are just normal teenagers. Their rescuer/recruiter, himself a TimeRider of many years, teams them up with a genetically engineered super-human called Bob, who is very reminiscent of Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator (in fact, he is almost christened Arnie by the team). This, book, the first in a series, very much focuses on Liam and Bob as they travel back to 1956 USA, and as such Liam's character is developed more fully than those of the others. Sal, in particular, is a character we really do not get to 'know' fully but hopefully this will come in later books.

At times this book is also quite thought-provoking. The villains of this story travel back in time to change it as they feel their 2066 world has become ruined by over-population, pollution and religious conflict; they go back to 1941 not for material gain but in the hope that they can make changes to improve the world of the future. However, no plan is ever perfect and power can corrupt, and the desired effect is far from preferable. As a reader is got me thinking if I had the power to go back through time, where would I go and would I want to make any changes? For example, would preventing the events of 9/11 lead to a better world or a far worse world than the one we live in today? Is it a chance worth taking? These, and many other similar questions will run through your mind as you read this book.

As I have already said, this is the first in a new series from Alex Scarrow, with the second promised for August 2010, and we are teasingly informed that 'Next Stop.... Dinosaurs!'. Roll on August - I can't wait to see where the author will take these characters next. Until then, TimeRiders is published by Puffin and is in stores already.


Exciting news: watch this space for a great TimeRiders competition coming tomorrow, where you could win a signed copy of the book. 

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