Wandering through the most recent Scholastic book fair at my sons' school, my eye was caught by Book Of Time, by Guillaume Prevost (2007, 213 pp, originally published in France). I have been thinking for a while that I needed to throw more modern stories into my timeslip mix, and so here I go.
Fourteen-year old Sam is not happy. In the immediate future, he has to face the brutally tough kid Monk in the upcoming judo tournament. In the larger scheme of things, his life has been depressing since his mother's death. He's had to move in with his grandparents, aunt, and twelve-year old cousin Lily, while his father, an antiquarian bookseller, disappears for days at a time. But never for as long as the most recent disappearance has lasted...
When the judo tournament is unexpectedly postponed, Sam heads over to the empty bookstore. Looking for something that might shed some light on his father's whereabouts, he finds a hidden room in the basement. There he discoverers a keyhole shaped stone, decorated with a carved stone. When he fits an old coin into the slot, he begins an adventure that will take him through time and space, into a quest to save his father, a prisoner hundreds of years in the past.
His journey takes him to a monastery in Scotland, about to be raided by the Vikings, to a World War 1 battlefield in France, to ancient Egypt, and to renaissance Belgium. Gradually Sam begins to learn the secrets of the stone, but will he be able to learn enough to find his father before time runs out?
It's a fun adventure. I had no problem reading briskly to the end, and I am sure that there will be plenty of kids, looking for a fast-paced and exciting story, who will like it lots.
But. The vignettes of times past almost all passed too quickly--there was little of the full immersion in the past that I particularly enjoy. Because Sam stays so briefly in each time, the people he meets don't have a chance to come alive vividly. The author is a history teacher, and I felt there was a touch of didacticism in the book--of the "lets encourage kids to learn about history by putting it in an adventure story!" kind (and in the author interview included in the Scholastic edition, he makes no bones about this being his hope).
The characters in the present aren't particularly three-dimensional either, and I found them, at times, unconvincing. For instance, when Lily (a bit of a brat when we first meet her) finds Sam in the bookstore, and he explains that he has been travelling, she accepts it quickly and without question, and right away is being helpful and supportive. I think a real twelve-year old might have found it just a bit harder to swallow than she does.
So this is one I'll keep for my boys, and which I would recommend for a ten or eleven-year old who likes fantasy and history, and is looking for an adventure story, but not one I would recommend to any of the grown-ups I know. For me, that is the real test of a book, regardless of the age of its intended readership.
The Book of Time is the first in a series. The second, The Gate of Days (which, according to Wikipedia, was more favorably received by the critics), came out last October, and the third, The Circle of Gold, comes out in September.
In an amazing coincidence, Becky happened to review this one today too--here are her thoughts.
This is, incidentally, the first modern French fantasy adventure for children that I've ever read, as far as I know (the original French cover is shown at right. I like it). I wonder what else is out there. What, for instance, are they writing in Italy these days?