The Time Quake is the conclusion to Linda Buckley-Archer's brilliant Gideon Trilogy (after Gideon the Cutpurse, aka the The Time Travelers, and The Time Thief). The Gideon Trilogy (apparently also called The Time Quake Trilogy and The Enlightenment of Peter Schock) features two modern-day British children named Kate Dyer and Peter Schock. While playing near an anti-gravity machine in Kate's father's lab, Peter and Kate are accidentally sent back to the 18th century. There, they meet up with a former thief named Gideon Seymour, who tries to protect them, and a rogue called The Tar Man, who tries to use the children for his own ends.
Note: This review may contain spoilers for Book 1 and Book 2. If you haven't read any of the Gideon books, and you like time travel stories, then I recommend that you stop here, and find yourself a copy of Book 1.
As The Time Quake begins, Kate and Peter have briefly returned home to their own time, only to be kidnapped by the Tar Man and returned to 1763. The two existing copies of the time machine have also been stolen by the Tar Man, so that no one from the present can rescue the children. Lord Luxon, the Tar Man's former employer, has stolen one of the time machines, and is using it to pop back and forth between modern-day New York City and 18th century London. Lord Luxon's callous disregard for the time continuum has resulted in the creation of a series of parallel worlds. The presence of these worlds is causing dangerous instabilities, including time quakes. Even worse, Lord Luxon is out to change history, and keep the US from gaining independence from Britain. Meanwhile, Peter and Kate, with Gideon and some other friends, are on a quest to find the Tar Man and the remaining time machine. Soon, however, they realize that returning to their own century won't be enough. They have to find a way to stop Lord Luxon, stop the Tar Man, and somehow heal time.
If it sounds a bit complex, well, it is. This series contains quite a few interconnected threads, as well as a host of characters, both in the 21st and 18th centuries. Time travel itself, of course, often provokes head-scratching, and Linda Buckley-Archer's version is no exception. But I think that this series is very well-done. The mechanics of and paradoxes from time travel are discussed in enough detail to engage the reader, without ever getting bogged down in technicalities. The characters are well-rounded (particularly Gideon and the Tar Man, who both have unexpected sides to their characters, and Kate's sensitive younger brother Sam), and the pacing is suspenseful.
The 18th century sections are filled with interesting historical facts, large and small, delivered with sufficient humor and showing (rather than telling) to keep the books from ever feeling didactic. In The Time Quake, for example, the reader learns about the importance of George Washington's Christmas Eve crossing of the Delaware. This is conveyed not in some dry, history book fashion, but from Lord Luxon's perspective, when he actually goes there (as, in Book 2, the children witnessed aspects of the French Revolution). The Time Quake also delves into alternative history territory, in a light-handed, speculative manner. Lord Luxon's interactions with a 21st century historian are entertaining, as are Peter's occasional comments on an 18th century life without modern conveniences. For example:
"A middle-aged tourist, his sagging belly bulging over the waist of his shorts, stopped to stare for a moment at this vision in cream linen. Lord Luxon eyed him with distaste... It was disappointing, he reflected, that twenty-first-century man's sense of fashion had not kept pace with the truly staggering progress he had observed in every other walk of life." (Page 4)
Peter walked over to look at the boats while Gideon, Sir Richard and the Parson pored over the fortune-teller's map trying to work out the whereabouts of the Tar Man's lodgings. He looked down at the river flowing quickly past him. Sometimes this century really got to him. Mostly he avoiding thinking in that way because it was pointless, but everything was so primitive. Everything took so long. How difficult could it be to find the Tar Man, for crying out loud? For a boy born into an age when information travels at the speed of light, it was cruelly hard to accept that in this century news could only travel as fast as the fleetest horse." (Page 126)
Buckley-Archer's writing is perfect for the story. She offers occasional descriptive passages, mixed tongue-in-cheek witticisms, and cliff-hanger chapter endings. I think that the balance works well. For example, here's the start of a chapter: "It was less than forty-eight hours after the bonfire on the Dyers' farm, and a policeman, an Enlightenment philosopher and a henchman's apprentice had an appointment to keep in Manhattan."
The author uses long chapter sub-titles, as was, I think, common in the late 18th century. (These titles are rendered in old-fashioned font, too). She also demonstrates an old-fashioned vocabulary and dialect in the 18th century sections, just enough for the reader to get a flavor for the time frame ("Mistress Kate", etc.), but not enough to make the book difficult to read.
The Time Quake is a satisfying conclusion to the Gideon Trilogy. It has everything you can ask for in middle grade fiction: a unique and fully realized setting; a compelling and thought-provoking premise; complex characters; skillful plotting; and a writing style that enhances the story. Plus, of course, there's time travel. This is an intelligent, interesting book, perfect for capturing the attention of young readers. The Time Quake is highly recommended for readers nine and up (though you MUST read the previous two books first, for it to make any sense at all).
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: October 6, 2009
Source of Book: I received a review copy of the UK edition from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: None that I've seen. Here is my review of Book 2 in the Gideon Trilogy: The Time Thief
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).