Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London for Timeslip Tuesday

Now that my frantic Cybils reading is behind me (and our Cybils shortlist is rather lovely, if I say so who shouldn't), it is time to return to regular blogging. So, since this is Tuesday, here's a time travel book--Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London, by Keith Mansfield (Quercus, 2008, middle grade, 352 pages).

13 year-old Johnny isn't an ordinary boy. It's not just that he lives in a children's home, with his mother in an insane asylum and his father imprisoned, or his phenomenal skill with computers. It's the fact that his life is entwined with the fate of an intergalactic empire....which, when the book begins, he has no idea even exists.

But soon he finds himself abducted by aliens along with a sister, Clara, whom he never knew existed, saved from them, and taken to the residence of the emperor himself. For reasons unclear to him, the emperor makes him a gift of an extraordinary intergalactic space ship (the titular Spirit of London), and he and Clara head for home....only to find that that they have travelled through time, setting in motion the meteor that will spell extinction for the dinosaurs. And that's not all--their next jump forward takes them to the sinister realm of Atlantis, where a plot to control the universe must be foiled. But that's still not all--what is the mystery surrounding their parents? Who are these kids, and why does the emperor take such an interest in them? And what will happen when they make it back to their own present (more or less) and face down the bad guy aliens???

There's actually more, but that's enough to gone on with. Lots of action, twists and turns of plot, and a generous dollop of suspense make for a page-turning adventure that is, I think, just the ticket for a sci fi loving upper middle grade reader (and the sort of book an adult reader who's willing to suspend disbelief and who's looking for something fun should appreciate as well). The story is told strictly from Johnny's point of view, so the reader only knows what he does, keeping things very interesting indeed.
The emphasis on Things Happening faster and faster means that this isn't a book for everyone, though--it's a cracking good story, but it doesn't have a ton of emotional power--I kept reading briskly not so much because I cared all that much about Johnny and Clara, but because I was so interested and curious.

And that is just fine--I'll be passing this one right over to my ten-year old, and I bet he enjoys it (space ships! computers! aliens! dinosaurs! sinister bad guys!).

Time travel-wise--the journey of Johnny and Clara back in time leads to interesting sub-plots and intriguing explorations of paradox. It's a key part of the plot, in a very sci-fi way (as opposed to time-travel for the sake of exploring the past, or for the sake of exploring characters). And as such it works well, adding zest and excitement to a story already full of both.

Edited, in response to a comment from the author: This is the first of a UK series. It's available directly from Amazon in the US as well (see link above), although it is singularly unavailable on bookstore shelves (at least in my area) and in libraries (not even the Library of Congress has a copy), which is a pity. There is so little middle grade science fiction out there, and I imagine that a fun, exciting series like this would find itself lots of readers....if they knew it existed!


  1. I'll keep my eyes open for a US version of this. Oh, and I have to tell you about my cell phone being a time travel device if I haven't already.

  2. Hope you don't mind an author post - the joys of Google alerts. Thanks for such a great and thoughtful review. It's lovely to see a blogpost from the US and brilliant to spot a whole review section devoted to time travel!

    As far as I know, the first two books (Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London and Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze have now been released in the States and the third won't have been yet as I'm just finishing it! But I'm over next week so shall check on the first two if I can.

    There's no separate US publisher so I'm not sure how widely available they are, but at least that means you won't have the version issues you mentioned with Michelle Harrison's (The) 13 Senses (you see I have read this blog before!)...

  3. Hi Keith,

    I have clarified the bit about the availability of the books in the US, because there they are, indeed, in the US online bookstores. I was confused, because I read this one because it was nominated for the Cybils with its UK isbn, and in trying to find a copy, I saw that there wasn't one even in the Library of Congress...I guess because, as you say, there's no seperate US publisher. The line between distribution and publishing seems blurry and confusing to me....

    But anyway, I'm very glad to have met Johnny, and have the sequel on my shopping list...

  4. Gosh - not even a copy in the Library of Congress? I feel I shall have to put that right!

    Speaking as a publisher as well as an author, I can say that line dividing sales territories has become enormously blurred (especially in the digital age when it's harder to control). Thanks for editing the post. It would be lovely if physical bookstores started stocking Johnny as well, but I've not seen it either despite frequent visits stateside. The next book, Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze even has a chapter set in New York so perhaps, in time, it will start to catch on.


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