Tuesday, 27 July 2010
Review: TimeRiders - Day of the Predator 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. 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 . . . When Maddy mistakenly opens a time window where and when she shouldn’t have, Liam is marooned sixty-five million years ago in the hunting ground of a deadly - and until now - undiscovered species of predator. Can Liam make contact with Maddy and Sal before he's torn to pieces by dinosaurs – and without endangering history so much that the world is overtaken by a terrifying new reality?
I read a great quote from Alex Scarrow the other day in which he stated that "I've worked really hard to make [TimeRiders] absolute cocaine for my son – something he couldn't put down." Now whilst the boring, moralistic teacher in me has to disapprove a little at the author comparing his book to a Class A drug, the story-loving boy inside of me agrees completely and as this is the school summer holidays and I have a lot more time to read then this is the part of my personality that is in the ascendancy at the moment. With this in mind I would happily stand up at a meeting of Readers Anonymous and announce that "I am addicited to TimeRiders".
I reviewed the first book in the series back in February and I loved it. However, now that I have read Day of the Predator, the second book in the series, I can honestly say that I have not been this excited about a series for a long time. As fas as anticipation for 'the next book' goes, I can compare it to how I feel about MG Harris' Joshua Files series and how I felt about the Percy Jackson books. And with Alex Scarrow having signed a nine book deal with Puffin I am looking forward to reliving this feeling a good number of times over the next few years. If he can maintain the quality over the whole series then Alex Scarrow will become as widely read as Riordan, Horowitz and Higson.
In the first book in the series we saw the recruitment of the TimeRiders team, three young people plucked from the jaws of death by the mysterious Foster. The story then saw our young heroes battling to reset time after a group of men travel back in time in order to change it, as they feel their 2066 world has become ruined by over-population, pollution and religious conflict. Their solution? Help Adolf Hitler to win the Second World War. This book encouraged the reader to question the morality of the actions of these men - if making a change in history will make the future world a better place then should this be seen as ethically acceptable? For me this was a stand out element of the first book, although in some ways it did overshadow some of the character development.
Day of the Predators is a very different set up. This time our heroes are tasked with going forward in time to prevent the assassination of a boy who will eventually develop the mathematical theories that will become the cornerstone of time travel development. However, as the result of an accident Liam O'Connor, the team's field agent, his genetically engineered 'bodyguard', and a school party of teenagers find themselves stranded sixty-five million years in the past, at a time when dinosaurs roamed the earth, and Liam has to be constantly reminded that every single action, however small, could have a disastrous effect on the future time line.
This is not a new concept in literature; I first read something similar in a comic strip many years ago (I think it was an epidode of Tharg's Future Shocks in 2000AD), and then later in Ray Bradbury's short story "A Sound of Thunder", but Alex Scarrow is delivering it to a totally new audience and in such a way that he will have these young adults hanging on his every word. In Day of the Predator Liam has to make some very difficult choices - if they stay and try to survive the consequences could damage the future, but then again so could their attempts to in some way send a message that the rest of the team will be able to retrieve in 2001, 65 million years later! All these questions and more will have readers constantly asking themselves "What if...?" and "but if they do that...?".
The nature of Liam's role in the team as field agent means that yet again his character is developed more than those of others. After all, it is Liam who is facing deadly predators in a world that is totally alien to that which he is used to. However, in the absence of Foster the role of team leader and chief strategist now falls on the relatively young shoulders of Maddy Carter. This is not a role that she takes on willingly, especially as she blames herself for the accident that has sent Liam hurtling back in time, and she is plagued with self-doubt. However, as the plot develops we also see Maddy gradually settling into this key role, making decisions that could impact not only on Liam's life but also on the lives of generations to come. We also see her agonising over the secrets she holds from the others, information that was imparted to her by Foster before he walked out of their lives at the end of the first book. Sal Vikram, the third member of the team, is still relegated to third place, with her role being largely a supporting one, with occasional flashes of briliance. Hopefully we will see more from Sal in the future.
The fourth character in the book is Bob, or Becks as he/she/it becomes in Day of the Predator. Bob's AI chip, rescued from its organic 'meat robot' form, is now inserted into the brain of a freshly 'grown' body, in order that Liam has a companion in his travels through time. The relationship between Liam and the newly formed Becks is a confusing one for the young Irish lad, and this confusion in his mind grows as together they face the dangers of Cretaceous USA. Becks also has to deal with the competing issues of her programmed Mission Priorities and her realisation that she is slowly developing traits that could almost be described as human. Should she proceed with the mission recommendations that her central processor is computing, or should she make allowances for the fact that she has cpmputed that she 'likes' Liam?
In reviews for books like this there are many cliched phrases uses, phrases such as "high octane", "nail-biting" and "a real page-turner". Howeer, I guarantee that every single one of these phrases, cliched though they may be, is entirely justified in any review about this book. If you have boys who are 12+ and are reluctant readers then buy them these two books before you go on holiday this summer, 'accidentally' leave the charger for their PSP/Nintendo DS/etc at home and maybe, just maybe, these could be the books to convert them to reading for enjoyment. If these books don't manage to get boys reading then there is little else that will.
My huge thanks go to Puffin for sending me a copy of TimeRiders: Day of the Predator to review. The book is officially published on 5th August.