YA Review: Invictus by Ryan Graudin

invictus.pngThe Premise (from NetGalley): Farway McCarthy was born outside of time. With nowhere to call home and nothing to anchor him to the present, Far captains a crew on a dangerous mission into the past. When he collides with Eliot – a mysterious, secretive girl, whose very appearance raises questions about time itself – Far immediately distrusts her. But he must take a leap of faith, following Eliot on a race against time, if he is to protect everything he’s ever loved from disappearing forever…

Thoughts: in the interests of full disclosure, I will hereby announce that I adored this book. Although, as I have frequently bemoaned, I don’t usually understand time travel, I absolutely love to read about it and the thought of Ryan Graudin – author of Wolf by Wolf, one of my favourite books of the last few years – publishing a book in this genre has had me giddy for months. Invictus doesn’t disappoint. The book gets off to a blistering start, with Farway’s mother in ancient Rome and accidentally giving birth outside of time (a concept I love), before heading 17 years into the future  to see Farway trying to graduate from time travel school. Or, as I like to think of it, the thinking reader’s Hogwarts. The pace is really fast and there aren’t any lulls as the book progresses, but somehow there’s no sense of things being rushed. If you’ve read Wolf by Wolf and Blood for Blood, you’ll know Graudin is a genius at managing loads of action alongside emotional developments, relationships you care about and fascinating backstories, and Invictus is no different. The plot is very sci-fi in ways I won’t explain because they would spoil it; it’s all very cool.

Invictus combines a few of my favourite things; aside from time travel, it almost seems like a space-set novel too, because of how much time is spent aboard the amazing-sounding time travel craft. The crew’s adventures throughout time mean that the book also contains lots of fun and impeccably researched historical details too; I particularly liked the way every detail of how this would work had been thought out, for example with the ship being crammed with historically accurate outfits fit for every era. The book only adds to the idea that time travel would be the coolest thing ever.

I loved the characters too and the rapport between Farway and his crew is both touching and very funny. The banter between those aboard the Invictus is a really entertaining part of the book and their close bond gives the dramatic bits real emotional import. Also they have a pet red panda, which is my main ambition in life.

In Conclusion: Invictus is everything I want in a book; it’s fun and exciting, with a wildly inventive plot (that actually makes sense – not always true in time travel stories), filled with fascinating characters and zingy dialogue. My only disappointment with the whole thing is that it’s a standalone book rather than the start of a series. I can’t wait to read what Graudin writes next.

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Review: Wayfarer by Alexandra Bracken

wayfarerThe Premise: Wayfarer is the sequel to 2016’s Passenger (which I reviewed here); consequently, if you’ve not read Passenger and plan to, don’t read this review. The follow-up picks up the story in the immediate aftermath of the first book, with everyone searching for the Maguffin astrolabe which evil Cyrus Ironwood wants to use in order to reset the timeline to bring his dead wife back. Or something. Modern girl Etta finds herself without traveler Nicholas (remember, they were all in love and stuff in Passenger. What do you mean, none of this rings a bell?). Lots of time travelling, making bad deals with dubious individuals and general disregard for one’s own life ensues.

Thoughts: as always when continuing a series, I was up against it from the start reading this, because I realised I had a very limited memory of what happened in the first book. What I really liked about Passenger was repeated and expanded here; the characters find themselves all over the place, from Carthage to St Petersburg, with several versions of New York along the way. I enjoyed how vividly realised each location and time frame was, and I liked the way that Bracken incorporated versions of real-life historical events into the fictional events of the novel; for example, Tsar Nicholas II feels fairly confident of the Thorns’ ability to protect him from assassination (sad times).  In my review of Passenger, I recall being very excited to have finally found a time travel concept that I understood; in Bracken’s duology, there are passages the travellers know about which take them to specific places and times. Scientifically, it’s probably not the most watertight explanation, but it works.

There’s loads of action in Wayfarer, with surprise appearances of characters everyone thought were dead and lots of combat in different centuries with historically-appropriate weapons. While I could have done with a bit more “previously in Passenger” type exposition, the action-packed nature of the story made it all very exciting. It took me a while to get back into the story and, particularly, to reacquaint myself with the main characters but, once I did, I remembered how much I liked angry Sophie and generally decent Nicholas. There’s less in Wayfarer about the difficulty Nicholas, as a mixed race person, faces in navigating some of the less enlightened eras through which he travels; I found this aspect of Passenger really interesting but, with the main characters splintering off in different parts of the narrative, it was inevitable that these kinds of details would be pushed to the background.

In Conclusion: I did Wayfarer a bit of a disservice; I started reading it just before I received a huge pile of books for Christmas, and so my mind was wandering to shiny new hardbacks while I was reading, which is foolish of me as Alexandra Bracken has continued to tell a really compelling and exciting story that spans continents and centuries. Despite its divergent narrative strands, Wayfarer is a coherent and inventive sequel to Passenger, and the two books together form a really satisfying duology.