Day of the Assassins, by Johnny O'Brien, for Timeslip Tuesday

Day of the Assassins, by Johnny O'Brien (Templar Publishing, 2009, upper middle grade/YA, 224 pages), is a fast-paced time-travel adventure that takes two British school boys back to World War I, via a time machine. There they become pawns in a struggle between two rival factions of the scientists who invented the machine. One side (known as VIGIL) has sworn not to meddle with the past, lest the present be disrupted; the other side, led by a mysterious man known as the Benefactor, feels a strong moral imperative to change things, and make the past better.

Jack and Angus aren't sure which side is right. Thrown into Europe on the eve of WW I, they soon find out that the past, with its vast cast of characters, and conflicting points of view, is much more complicated than they thought. Should they try to stop the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand, or let history take its terrible course?

Timeslip Tuesday is something of a risk for me as a reader--I've exhausted all but two of the timeslip stories I've already read (I'm holding those in reserve), and so I find myself, as it were, setting up blind dates with books I've never met and with whom I might turn out to have little in common. Day of the Assassins happened to be that sort of book--we had a pleasant conversation, but didn't exchange phone numbers.

I think it would be great for a 12 year old boy fascinated by intrigue and adventure--there are lots of Daring Escapes (rappelling down from a cable car, being shot at while escaping on high-powered motorcycles smuggled from the future) and Dramatic Events (an unexpected balloon trip when the tether rope is shot through, the culminating assassination attempt) as Jack and Angus travel across Europe, pursued by the operatives of VIGIL.

As for me, I find that, unless its Connie Willis, time travel devices built by scientists are much harder for me to accept than time travel through vague, even unexplained, magic. (It didn't help that the time travel machine is called Taurus--I kept mis-reading it as Tardis). I appreciated the central dilemma of the book--if you could keep a war from happening, would it be the right thing to do?--but that wasn't quite enough to satisfy me--I was never deeply moved, which surprised me a bit, because it doesn't take much of WW I to move me.

But that being said, if you know a young reader whose interest in WW I might have been sparked by Leviathan et seq. by Scott Westerfeld, you could offer them this--it's not as wildly extravagant in its imagination, but that reader might well find it a satisfying adventure. And for those who like to learn history through fiction, this is a good introduction to the beginnings of WW I.

And I myself might well, some other Timeslip Tuesday, find myself reviewing the next two books in the series--Day of Deliverance (2010) and Day of Vengeance (2011).

Here's an example from early in Jack's adventure, when he's hiding on a British ship of war:

"Jack turned round on the gun so his back was now facing away from the turret and towards the bow. Balancing dangerously, he inserted first one foot and then the other into the barrel and pushed his body carefully into the end of the gun. It was a tight squeeze, but he was small for his age and he just made it. As long as he kept his blond head down, nobody would ever know he was there.

But he did not have much time to enjoy his new hiding place. Suddenly he felt a slight vibrating sensation around him coupled with a low, grinding sound. Imperceptibly at first, the giant gun barrel in which he was encased, slowly started to move. The massive gun swung its way from its position parallel with the starboard deck out towards the sea. As it moved laterally, it also rose upwards into the air. Below, in the gun turret itself, he began to hear muffled voices and the commotion of men preparing… for what? Jack, whose head had been flush with the end of the barrel, pushed himself up a couple of inches and sneaked a look. He was shocked at what he saw. His gun was now pointing well out over the starboard side of the ship and thirty feet below all he could see was the grey water of the sea churning to white as Dreadnought drove through it at a mind-spinning twenty knots.

Emerging from a light mist on the distant horizon, he spotted first one, then two and then three ghostly shapes....The gun rose a little further into the air, and he realised with sickening fear that Dreadnought was about to open fire." (page 65)

(Ms. Yingling also has a time travel book review today--Ruby Red, by Kersten Gier, which I want rather badly! And at Just Booking Around you can find the classic Lest Darkness Fall, which I really need to read some day....If anyone else, by the way, were to review a time travel book on a Tuesday, and let me know, I'll put in a link!)


  1. My brother put up a review on our blog at http://justbookingaround.blogspot.com/2011/05/time-travel-tuesday-de-camps-lest.html

  2. I still will try to read this before I buy it, but your review makes me lean heavily towards purchase. I think my boys would like it.

  3. You've never read Lest Darkness Fall???? Good heavens - whatever you're doing now, drop it and go read the book! (I've read it at least four or fivr times, and have been thinking about rereading it....)


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