Tomorrow's Guardian, by Richard Denning, for (this Wednesday's) Timeslip Tuesday

Tomorrow's Guardian by Richard Denning (Mercia Books, 2010, middle grade/YA, 361 pages).

Tom Oakley wonders if he is going mad when time begins to play tricks on him, replaying small bits of his life, and the nightmares--of an English army officer dying in the Zulu War, a woman burning in the Great Fire of London, and a British soldier drowning in a U-boat battle in WW II--start haunting his sleep. But the truth is stranger than he could imagine. Tom is no ordinary 11 year old English school boy; instead, he is a time walker of potentially phenomenal ability. And the mysterious Hourglass Institute wants to recruit him.

Tom is given a choice. He can join the Hourglass Institute's struggle to keep time safe from those who would destroy it, or, after doing three small jobs, he could renounce his powers and go back to normal life. The three small jobs, however, are rescuing the people whose deaths he had been dreaming of, and bringing them back to the present, where their own time bending talents can be put to use.

Not only is this a rather dangerous undertaking, but a sinister man is bent on stopping him. Because of this man's machinations, when Tom does accomplish his tasks, going home is no longer an option. Instead, his is given the choice between saving his parents from an impossible tragedy that killed them before he was born, or saving our reality from one in which the Nazis won WW II...a reality that exists side by side with our own.

It's not the most original plot line (especially to those who've read TimeRiders, by Alex Scarrow, which also features characters saved from death, and an alternate Nazi world), but it is original enough in detail so that I didn't find this a problem (and I think Denning does a much more convincing job with the whole difficult, paradoxical business of time travel!). By the time Tom was enmeshed in his struggle with the alternate Nazis, I was hooked. That being said, it took me a while before this happened--I found the beginning somewhat awkward, and, like Tom, wasn't sure what was happening, or if I cared. In the end, however, I most certainly did!

I think my reservations come from a feeling that the book could have been more tightly edited. Mercia Books appears to have been created to publish Denning's books, which is fine, and although there weren't any of the typos and blunders that are sadly found in many self published books, I did feel that the heavy hand of an outside editor would have been useful. The writing didn't always work for me, and the same points are made a bit too often. Likewise, I wasn't convinced by Denning's characterizations of the three individuals Tom saved from the past; they seemed like stereotypes. For instance, here's the Victorian army officer:

"Indeed, I have not met him either," said Edward, "but from what little Mary told me just now, he does seem a villain. Not sure what his game is, but it does not sound as if he would play fair." (page 220)

Even though my feelings about the book are mixed, as I said above, by the last hundred pages, I was gripped by the excitement of all the disparate threads coming together; I found Nazi-victorious alternate reality particularly compelling. I'd hand this to a fan of TimeRider in a second!

Tomorrow's Guardian is the first book of The Hourglass Institute trilogy. Book two, Yesterday's Treasures came out this year, and book three, Today's Sacrifice, is set to be released in the spring (2012).

Other thoughts, which I'm giving in more detail than usual, because of my own ambivalence:

The Bookbag: The major success here – and it is a really major one – is that author Richard Denning, after a slightly slow first few chapters, keeps the action fast and furious for the other 400 or so pages of the book....The other thing that really impressed me about the book was the way the time travel was handled"

At Blogcritics: "There is danger and cunning inherent in each incident, keeping the action sharp and engrossing."

At SF Site: "There is something winningly ordinary and decent about Tom. Denning does not fall into either trap of over-sophistication or over-sentimentalisation, or trying to be self-consciously cool or down with the kids. This ordinariness is a great strength. This book is at times rather ploddingly written and will not change the face of books, whether children's or time-travel literature, but it will beguile a young mind for some hours."

At The Squee: "The bits I think I prefer most of all, though, were the visits to historical events. Denning clearly knows his stuff, and manages to set the scenes very well. It's particularly in these parts where the book excels."

At Confessions of a Bookworm: "One of the things that immediately caught my attention when reading this book is how quickly the storyline progressed beyond the initial plot. As I began reading, I had assumed the book would focus entirely on the rescue missions, drawing them out into lengthy adventures that would fill the book. That, however, was not the case and the storyline progressed into an even larger plot before I was even halfway through the book."

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