Background: The Time Thief is the second book in Linda Buckley-Archer's Gideon Trilogy. It was originally published in the UK as The Tar Man. The first book in the series, The Time Travelers, was originally published in the UK as Gideon the Cutpurse. I listened to the audio version of Gideon the Cutpurse last year, and although I didn't review it at the time, I thought that it was original and entertaining. When I heard that the second book was available, I had to have it. I do prefer the UK titles - I think that they are more memorable - but regardless of the titles, this is a compelling series for fantasy and science fiction fans of all ages.
Review: The Time Thief begins immediately following the end of the first book (spoilers here if you haven't read the first book. Stop here and go read that, and then come back, that's my advice.) Kate and her father, Dr. Dyer, have returned safely from their trip to 1763, with their time machine. Unfortunately, however, through a last-minute crisis, they've left Kate's friend Peter behind, with Gideon Seymour, in 1763. Instead of bringing back Peter, they've returned accompanied by The Tar Man, a criminal in any age.
The story follows separate threads, as The Tar Man wreaks havoc in modern-day London and Kate, with Peter's father, attempts to rescue Peter. Unfortunately, due to a unanticipated blunder, Kate and Mr. Schock land in 1792, instead of 1763. Peter has grown to adulthood, raised by Gideon, and isn't sure how to react to finding his friend still 12 years old, and his father apparently his own age. Further complications ensue, as Kate, Mr. Schock, and Peter travel across England and revolutionary France in search of a way home. Meanwhile, back in modern times, Kate's father must conceal the truth from the police, and seek out a way to rescue both Peter and his daughter.
This is a fascinating story, but not for the faint of heart. The Tar Man is quite violent. The French Revolution is described with detail and immediacy. And I think that children might find disturbing the fact that Peter, as we find him in this story, never got rescued, and had to grow up in the 18th century. But for those ready to handle these issues, The Time Thief offers a thrilling ride. The plot is absorbing, the characters are three-dimensional (though there are an unusual number of adult protagonists for a children's book), and the time travel aspects intriguing. Buckley-Archer offers just the right amount of historical detail - enough to give the reader a good view of the 18th century, but never so much as to overwhelm the plot.
I did have a quibble with the parts of the story told from the Tar Man's perspective. At least in the advance copy that I read, the Tar Man early in his visit indicated knowledge of the things around him that he shouldn't have understood yet. Yes, it's told in third person, but it's a limited perspective third person, and I found, for example, an early reference to a Mini Cooper jarring. I would have preferred to see this section told entirely from the perspective of a person from the 18th century first seeing modern-day London (as indeed some of it was told, as when "He encountered few of those outlandish carriages that moved without horses".) But this is a minor point that didn't detract from my overall enjoyment of the book. I also quite enjoyed the scenes in which the Tar Man learns how to behave in 21st century England, as when he grudgingly accepts that calling the waitress a "wench" is not the path to good service.
One of the best things about time travel books is the fish out of water aspect - people from the past not understanding what they are seeing in the present, and people from the present acting oddly when thrust into the past. The nice thing about The Time Thief is that we get to see this disconnect from both perspectives. The people in the past don't understand why Peter is so fastidious about taking care of his teeth, while the people in the present are shocked when the Tar Man brazenly steals a policeman's horse.
One of my favorite scenes is the first one in which we see the grown-up Peter, in 1792:
"Then he picked up The Observer and began to read, puffing at his pipe and taking pleasure in blowing smoke rings toward the ceiling. It was a habit he relished, not least because it reminded him of a particular wizard in a book he had loved as a child, and longed to hold in his hands once more." (Chapter 4)
There's something touching about the picture of this grown man, in a world where the book doesn't yet exist, still thinking longingly of his childhood favorite (which Michele tells me is a reference to Gandalf in The Hobbit). Although we're happy to see that Peter has grown into a successful man, we also feel sorry for the boy who never got to go home.
The other interesting thing about time travel books is the paradoxes and moral questions. Is it right to go into the past and tell people about something that's going to happen? How will it change things in the future if you do that? Does time travel inherently render the universe unstable, by creating different trajectories in the world? The characters in The Time Thief ponder these issues seriously. For example:
"Dr. Piretti did not answer straightaway and then replied: 'If you knew, for sure, that going back in time again would potentially damage the universe in some catastrophic way we can't even envisage, would it be right to risk the safety of the rest of humanity for the sake of one innocent boy?" (Chapter 1)
Of course this issue is viewed differently by Peter's father than by the more dispassionate scientists. Questions like these will have the reader pausing to think, even in the midst of rapidly turning pages to see what happens next. All in all, The Time Thief is a worthy successor to The Time Travelers, one that is sure to please everyone from middle schoolers to adults. I highly recommend it, and look forward to book three of the series.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: December 26, 2007
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher. Please note that any quotations are from the ARC, and may not reflect the final text of the book.
Other Blog Reviews: Lady Schrapnell, Scholar's Blog Spoiler Zone, 8areadingblog
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.