Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Immortal Descendents

I'm a sucker for time travel stories. I think they are one of the best ways to explore history, since the modern day protagonist will notice everything that is different about that time from the 21st Century, in a way that a resident of that time would not. I believe that time travel stories, when done well, allow a reader to truly immerse themselves in historical fiction.

Emphasis on "when done well." Alas, it is pretty difficult to find good time travel that is well written, well researched, and reasonably appropriate for general audiences (YA and above). Part of this is because playing with time, even just in one's imagination, gets really complicated fast. I've personally been working on and off on a time travel novel for nine years now and I still can't get everything about it to work. Writing good time travel is hard.

So though "Marking Time" was recommended to me by a well-trusted source, I still picked it up warily. The one thing that stuck out to me was that it wasn't just about a time traveler - it was about the modern day descendants of five immortals, of whom Time was only one. This meant that in addition to time travel, the series also deals with shape-shifters (Nature), war-mongers (War), seers (Fate), and vampires (Death).

"Oh come on," I hear you saying. "Let me guess, another YA novel that has werewolves and vampires? Pleeeeese."

No worries. April White's twist on both of these tropes is nicely done, and well mixed with the seers, mongers and time travelers.

So what's the premise? I'll post the blurb from the author's website, which does a nice job of laying it out.

Seventeen-year-old tagger, Saira Elian can handle anything...
     ... A mother who mysteriously disappears, a stranger who stalks her around London, and even the noble English Grandmother who kicked Saira and her mother out of the family. But when an old graffiti tag in a tube station transport Saira to the nineteenth century, and she comes face-to-face with Jack the Ripper, she realizes she needs help after all.
     Saira meets Archer, a charming student who helps her blend in as much as a tall, modern American teen can in Victorian England. He reveals the existence of the Immortals: Time, Nature, Fate, War, and Death, and explains to Saira that it is possible to move between centuries - if you are a Descendant of Time.
     Saira finds unexpected friendships at a boarding school for Immortal Descendants, and a complicated love with a young man from the past. But time is running out for her mother, and Saira must embrace her new identity as she hides from Archer a devastating secret about his future that may cost him his life.

Intriguing, yes? But is it good? Does it check the three boxes?

It's YA, so that automatically pretty much guarantees it checks the "appropriate for general audiences" box. (There are some 'hero and heroine sharing a bed fully clothed' bits, so more conservative families might not be cool with that, but otherwise everything is pretty much good for the 15+ crowd, imho).

And then... the story is pretty good too. The characters are well rounded, likable and believable. Our heroine, Saira, is only very occasionally annoying. The plot keeps you guessing (although the twist in the first book is pretty obvious to the experienced reader), and is unique. That'd be enough to recommend the story even if the time travel was weak.

But the time travel is strong. I have only read one other book that handled it so well, and that's saying a lot because my standards are high. Both the way the travel is handled, and the historical details themselves are very well researched and incorporated into the story. The second book deals with Elizabeth Tudor, which is a period I know well and I found very little to take issue with. Mostly I was geeking about the inclusion of young Elizabeth I. (Book 3 deals with Joan of Arc, although not in the way you're expecting!*).

Furthermore, a story that deals with time travel in Western Europe can't ignore religion, and I was pretty impressed by the balanced viewpoint the author gave. Sure, one of the main baddies is a bishop, but he's balanced by a good bishop as one of the mentor characters (who is also one of the heroine's favorite people). And it's always fun to see a vampire discussing theology! I'm looking forwards to how this plays out in the last two books as we discover more about the original immortals and how they might connect (or not) to Christianity.

Needless to say, I was impressed, and sped my way through the first three books in a week. The first one is free on Amazon (and the author intends to keep it that way), and the other two are each $3.99, which is a good deal considering that these are pretty long books (always a plus!). My only peeve is that the series is still in progress, which means waiting for two more books to release before the story is finished. UGH!

Anyhow, I was so glad that I was told about this books and followed up on the suggestion. They are really, really good and I highly recommend them to anyone with a love for history, fantasy, and good stories!

*EDIT - I should note that something happens at the end of book 3 that could lower my opinion of the time travel in the series if it is not properly resolved in book 4. Just in case any critical readers get to that point and wonder about this raving review! ;)


Hans Georg Lundahl said...

What were your takes on Harding's Luck (E. Nesbit)?

Elizabeth Amy Hajek said...

I've read E.Nesbit but I'm not familiar with Harding's Luck.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

The House of Arden is still on wiki.

It included a reference to Harding's Luck.