Monday, October 21, 2013

Nick of Time (Ted Bell)

Nick of Time
(The Nick McIver Time Adventures series, Book 1)
Ted Bell
Square Fish
Fiction, YA Adventure/Sci-Fi
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Young Nick McIver may be the best sailor on Greybeard Island; who else, after all, has successfully mapped the deadly reefs off Gravestone Rock? Sailing runs in his blood, as McIvers have served in the British Navy since before the days of Lord Nelson. Living in the lighthouse with his family, sailing the rough seas, exploring the many nooks and crannies of the shoreline... his life couldn't get any better! But it may just take a turn for the worse.
It's 1939, and though the Prime Minister assures the public that the brewing troubles in Europe are none of their concern, Nick's father and other patriots keep a sharp eye on the waters. Despite wartime treaties, the Nazis are developing new, powerful submarines, many of which have a suspicious obsession with the English channel. It all sounds very exciting to Nick, a chance to try his hand at becoming a hero like the men and boys in history books. But Nazis aren't the only trouble stalking the island. When Nick and his kid sister Katie discover a strange sea chest - one with his own name on it! - washed up in a hidden cove, a forbidding stranger soon appears. Billy Blood is a ruthless pirate, a traitor to his country and a merciless kidnapper. With a stolen time machine, he steals children throughout history, holding them for exorbitant ransoms aboard his blood-red ship. Even the reclusive Lord Hawke, the island's most unusual resident, has fallen victim to the monster. When Blood steals Nick's beloved dog, the boy sets out to find him - a journey that will take him into the heart of two wars, over a century apart.

REVIEW: Time travel, pirates, Nazis... this had all the makings of a great, rollicking adventure. Nick starts out as a resourceful, if impetuous, protagonist, and if his family and friends tended to fall neatly into genre stereotypes (the stoic but loving father, the worried mother, the precocious kid sister), well, that's not entirely unexpected in an old-school adventure yarn. But it takes nearly a third of the book to reach the time travel element promised by the cover, a delay involving lots of needless babbling and obvious Lesson-Inducing Blunders on the part of Nick. An awful lot of adults crowd the pages for a children's adventure, talking and explaining and generally eating page count, while the kids linger in the background waiting for their chance at heroism. There's a reason grown-ups usually have back seats in these stories; it becomes harder to suspend disbelief, that a kid will save the day, when too many competent adults are in on the action. Indeed, Nick and Katie's contributions stand out like sore thumbs, especially Katie, who - though not even seven years old - fools trained Nazi Gestapo agents with nary a misstep. Bell wrote a previous series about Hawke, which may explain why he and his right-hand man dominate so much of the story, but they crowded Nick out of his own adventure. The book also can't seem to decide on a definitive tone. One minute, it's trotting out silly stereotypes and eye-rolling efforts at jokes, the next it's callously and gruesomely picking off extras. It all snowballs into a jumbled mess by the end. It also seems to forget that a key element of the plot is a time machine - capable of targeting any time, and any place. Several tense situations could've been resolved with that little golden device.
Despite some good moments and a few memorable scenes - Nick's meeting with a longtime hero leaves him nearly speechless for more than one reason - the whole story felt too long and too unfocused to make for a satisfying read.

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