Jumping (the shark?) through time

Title: Nick of Time

Author: Ted Bell

Pub. Date: May 2008

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Genre: Science Fiction/Historical Fiction

Age Range: Young Adult

Synopsis/Teaser: 12-year-old Nick McIver is a lighthouse keeper’s son through and through– he knows his native Greybeard, a small island in the English Channel, and the surrounding waters like the back of his hand. His father Angus is often occupied with his “birdwatching,” which is not just a hobby. It’s the code word used by spies working for Winston Churchill that stands for watching for German  activity near England. Nick and his young sister, Kate, get in on the action, but soon watching for Nazis seems trivial. The arrival of a mysterious sea chest and a pair of murderous pirates turns Nick’s world upside down– and gives him the adventure of a lifetime.

Review: Before I read Nick of Time, I’d forgotten the value of a good old-fashioned pirate story. I read Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, the quintessential pirate story, when I was younger, and enjoyed it quite a bit. After that, I abandoned the genre altogether. I didn’t come to Nick of Time for an adventure on the high seas– I read it for the time travel– but that’s what I took away from it. I browsed around the ‘net for some information on real pirates and found this on “Black” Sam Bellamy and the Whydah. (Ignore the part about the museum exhibition– just click through the webpages.)  But here I am, wandering off topic again. Back to Nick of Time.

To say it outright: it was a  good book. There’s great action, suspense, and description. Ted Bell has taken some old ideas and remixed them into one big rollicking roller coaster ride of a novel. I love the vivid characters; Hobbes and Gunner were my favorites, even over the protagonist, Nick. Billy Blood was a wonderfully  hate-able villain. I could only wish for a little more in the line of female characters. Kate took a strong place in the plot, but she’s much too young to be a heroine for the teen audience. She was the only female character, except, of course, those who needed rescuing from the pirates, such as Lady Anne. Sheesh– talk about damsels in distress!

The plot left a little to be desired in the line of believability. However, most fantasy/sci-fi books have to jump the shark a little to get the characters out alive. It’s a trademark of the genre, like it or not, and reading fantasies requires that you put up with it. Only when things get extreme– such as the use of tactics like “Oh no! They’re dead! Everyone start crying. Wait– wait– they’re alive! It’s a miracle!” (for lack of a better way to put it)– do I have to roll my eyes.

 Nick of Time is a timeless (no pun intended) adventure story that should appeal to fans of both the science fiction and historical fiction genres.

Recommended for: Lovers of such swashbuckling tales as Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, history buffs, and time travel aficionados.

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5 possible stars

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