“ Genre: Junior Book - Sci-Fi & Fantasy / Author: Carl Ashmore / Kindle edition „
13 year old Becky Mellor and her 11 year old brother, Joe, arrive at Bowen Hall, a huge Jacobean country mansion, to spend the summer holidays with their eccentric Uncle Percy, an inventor. The children are not over-keen at first, but they soon discover that Bowen Hall is no ordinary place. Its residents include two sabre-tooth tigers, a baby triceratops, the hot-headed and handsome Will, who is ace with a bow and arrow and a couple, Jacob and Maria, from 1930s Germany. The children soon discover that Uncle Percy is a time traveller who has rescued these people and animals on his many journeys. They also discover that Uncle Percy is investigating the murder of a close friend, whose death has something to do with a quest for the Golden Fleece. As the children join Uncle Percy on his travels through time - in a green & white VW campervan called Bertha - their summer holidays suddenly take on a more dangerous but exciting course, which brings them into contact with Jason and the Argonauts, some terrifying creatures from Greek mythology and a sinister figure called Otto Kruger, one of Hitler's SS. Can they solve the murder mystery? Can they ensure the safety of Bowen Hall and its inhabitants? Does time travel hold all the answers or are there some situations where you just can't override fate?
The book is aimed at children from about 11 years and over but can be enjoyed by adults too. The reviews I read on Amazon confirmed that it is a huge hit with many older readers, which is why I decided to download it to my Kindle. However, I would not recommend it for those adults who are used to more complex science fiction and time travel literature. The concepts in The Time Hunters are fairly simple and not too abstract. That suited me fine, as I am not usually a science fiction fan. (I even get confused watching Dr Who!)
If you think it sounds a little predictable, so did I when I first began to read it. The scenario of two children being made to spend the 6-weeks holidays with a relative they don't know, expecting to have the dullest summer ever is hardly original. Nor is the concept of the eccentric uncle who invents things. Why is it that inventors - and uncles, for that matter - always seem to be portrayed as eccentrics in children's adventure books? Turning an everyday vehicle into a time machine isn't new either. Another thing that grates on me a little is when you get plucky kids in books saying, "we're coming too!" when the adult tries to shield them from danger. Their total fearlessness defies reality, as does the way the adult always gives in so easily. They venture into peril and nobody suffers post-traumatic stress disorder at the end. Yes, I know it's fiction and we are supposed to suspend our disbelief, but at times this was mildly annoying.
However, in spite of these niggles, I was glad I persevered with the book as in many ways it was not what I was expecting. What I liked about it is the way the author introduces aspects of folk law and Greek mythology but tweaks and twists the detail, putting a new take on the stories and characters that we thought we were all familiar with. If you thought you knew what to expect from Jason and the Argonauts, this book will change your perspective. As for the Minotaur and the story of the Labyrinth, the version you will read in The Time Hunters is one of the most inventive, cleverly written parts of the book.
I thought the combination of a murder mystery and a time travel adventure made for a gripping read. The pace of the novel is very fast and it doesn't take pages and pages to get going. Although Uncle Percy was a little clichéd, I liked him as a character. He had a quirky, English charm which came across from the moment he appeared to meet the children, clad in a tweed sports jacket with a rose in the lapel, wearing Bermuda shorts and sandals and driving a 1907 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost. It's pretty obvious that someone who looks such a 'dweeb' is going to turn out to be some kind of genius. I loved the way Percy was always so unfazed and 'English' no matter what situation he found himself in. At times his vulnerability was revealed though, and I felt that his sadness at the loss of his murdered friend was conveyed sensitively. His relationship with the children was credible too. At first it seemed a bit difficult to understand (and a touch unsavoury) why a childless eccentric would invite two kids he didn't know to stay at his house. However, as Percy's character and background unfold we begin to appreciate where this strong bond with the children comes from.
I enjoyed the way these two very modern children adjusted to life in different time zones. There is an amusing scene where Becky, who has never worn a dress in her life, has to don a hideous Victorian gown for a trip to 1900. "I look like a bog roll with legs," she complains, like a typical image-obsessed teen. I found the kids a bit annoying, particularly Joe who had a tendency to say "whoa!" too much for my liking. The way the siblings wind each other up and trade insults gets a bit wearisome after a while. However, I think young readers will probably relate to Joe and Becky and their squabbles. When we meet Becky at the start she is a typical moody teen whose life revolves around Facebook and friends and who is very self-conscious about "a spot the size of a gerbil" that has appeared on her forehead. We see her develop into a feisty, courageous, quick-witted, unselfish character as the story develops. Joe's character isn't so well defined. He seems to be a cocky, annoying little so-and-so throughout!
I will be amazed if this book doesn't get made into a film one day, because it would make a super movie. The action scenes are very exciting and colourful and painted vivid pictures in my mind. I particularly enjoyed the scenes involving battles with creatures from mythology, such as the harpies and the hydra and I was impressed by the attention to detail, bringing the Crete landscape to life. In one scene the characters descend the hundreds of steps to take them to the maze, which is 200 feet below the ground. I could almost feel the damp, musty, cold atmosphere and hear the rumbling and echoing in the walls, which really built the suspense.
There were lots of unexpected twists throughout the book and I liked the way that the surprises were still coming right up to the end. There were no points where the story slowed down. It certainly kept me turning the pages. The ending was satisfactory but it did feel as if there were one or two loose ends that weren't tied up, but I understand a sequel is now available.
There are some humorous moments in the novel. There is an amusing scene where Joe tries to teach the Argonauts how to play cricket, without much success - another example of the very English nature of this adventure.
I think that after reading this book, children might be interested to find out more about the Greek myths and folklore they have been introduced to, contrasting Carl Ashmore's version with the traditional versions. It's certainly a book that will stimulate a child's imagination and provide escapism from modern life.
The Time Hunters is available on Kindle for a mere £0.72, which is super value, in my opinion. Overall I would recommend it.