Wednesday, October 8, 2008

City of Time by Eoin McNamee

I'm excited to be presenting Sheila Jones' (Greenridge Chronicles) first review at The Well-Read Child.

City of Time by Eoin McNamee

A Navigator. A Watcher. Resisters. The Harsh.
This is the cast of Eoin McNamee’s City of Time, sequel to The Navigator.

City of Time is set in a seemingly ordinary harbor city. Owen is an only child who lives with his mother. She seems lost in a depression, which we are led to believe has been caused by the accidental death of Owen’s father, and thus hardly registers Owen’s presence. It would seem that Owen leads two very different lives: one as a boy who attends school, does his homework and watches his mother retreat further into her fog of sadness, and another, in an unseen world in which he is known as a Navigator. Owen isn’t sure what being a Navigator entails, and the only person he can ask about it - his father - is gone, but he knows it has something to do with assisting the Resisters in their battle with the Harsh. The Resisters, a motley assortment of medieval warriors, sci-fi women, and Dickensian children, lie sleeping in a derelict Workhouse on the river until called to battle against the Harsh. They are part of this unseen world. They are guarded by Owen’s trusted friend Cati, who has become Watcher since the disappearance of her own father, the previous Watcher (an event which took place in The Navigator). The Harsh, icy beings intent on amassing time, even if it means the end of both Owen and Cati’s worlds, are a terrifying and dangerous enemy, but as events unfold we see that if anyone can outmaneuver them, it’s Owen and Cati, young as they are.

The novel starts off fairly briskly, with Owen noticing almost immediately that something is off. A schoolmate’s face briefly turns to that of an old woman right before his eyes. Not only that, but strange things are happening in Cati’s world. She too sees things age mysteriously before her eyes, only in her case these things crumble into nothingness. Then there’s the Puissance, the whirlwind that sucks in time in disastrous ways, created by the Harsh, locked in a trunk in Owen’s bedroom. It’s being hunted by a Harsh collaborator, a man named Johnston, and he knows precisely where to find it: Right away we discover that he’s waiting outside Owen’s house, watching him unobserved. And it would seem that it’s only a matter of time before he gets it. In the meantime, the peculiar things happening to Owen and Cati begin to be amplified in the natural world around them: frequent earthquakes, planet shifts, and bizarre tidal occurrences are frightening the people in Owen’s town.

I had trouble with the start of this novel. McNamee uses awkward turns of phrases to describe Owen, and at times they are a little too Textbook Hero for my liking. Here is how Owen’s classmates see him:

“…he had grown up a lot during that time and his classmates sensed it. He was still a loner, but he was respected.”

And later:

“Now he had the quiet air of a boy who could solve problems, and the younger children in particular often came to him for help.”

Fortunately the book gains momentum once Owen and Cati, alarmed with the strange things they see happening, wake some of the Resisters, confer with Dr Diamond, the highly resourceful Professor first encountered in The Navigator, get a garbled message from Cati’s lost father entreating them to find a tempod, and, after some difficulty, open the sealed entrance to Hadima, the City of Time. Then it’s away to the races.

McNamee writes with a clear eye to detailing the lives of his characters. We read about their meals, their futuristic weaponry and tools, and the personality traits that bring some of the more peripheral figures very much alive. There are some great characters in this book: Cati is one, Rose is another, and the Dog children are yet another. The Dog children are ordinary children who have been infected, vampire-like, by the scratch of a Dog child, and McNamee does a clever job detailing their transformation. They run in packs, stealing and raiding and causing havoc on the roads. Rose, who enters the story in a typically Hollywoodish manner, all high-heeled sturm und drang and sharply drawn daggers, is easily one of the more witty - and intelligent - characters. And Cati, who could have become a pathetic pawn with her meek personality, becomes instead the sentimental core of the novel. She discovers exactly what happened to her father, runs with the free spirited Dogs, and along the way finds her own two feet.

McNamee is also very good at scene setting: we are told about the Moon drawing ever close, about the cold and heavily falling snow, and the smells of blood and fear in the air. And the action really whips along. Characters race through the story and I was never sure if they were going to return or not. I liked this aspect of the novel a lot, because in some respects McNamee’s characters are a bit conventional: good characters are unendingly proud, brave, and unusually resourceful, while the Harsh and their henchman Johnston are mocking, sneer a lot. and, ultimately, oddly short-sighted.

I don’t think it is necessary to have read The Navigator first - McNamee recaps enough of the first novel in order to understand the events of Owen and Cati’s past – but I think it would help to understand the characters more. There are a few characters brought into the story, I’m thinking of Wesley, one of the Raggies, Mary White, and Owen’s mother Martha, who demand more time from the novel without getting it, but it’s a minor quibble.

Interestingly, I read the first few chapters of this book to my kids, and the parts I had had trouble getting past on my own seemed better for having been read aloud. I’m reluctant to say I didn’t like this book, because I did, but I couldn’t help but feel as though McNamee had troubling hitting his stride in the writing, particularly at the start. And it would not surprise me in the least to see this series being made into a movie.

What Other Bloggers Are Saying:

The Merry Genre Go Round Reviews:
"With a great climax, this middle book can stand alone though it remains consistent to its predecessor THE NAVIGATOR. It is also worth reading as a great tale and to better understand Owen and company." (read more...)

More Info:
  • Age Level: Young Adult
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books (June 24, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375839127
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375839122
  • Source: Review copy from publisher

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