Reviewed by Tahlia Newland.
March 26, 2013
This excellent young adult historical fantasy is a great little action story and one that would appeal to teenage boys.
Charlie’s father has something important to tell him, but before he can, Charlie finds himself falling into a kind of wormhole after a mechanical man. He ends up travelling backwards in time to London in the 1700s, meets a girl and the adventures begin. They cause a timequake when they inadvertently get Ben Franklin killed before he goes to Philadelphia. This alters the course of history, so when Charlie tries to go back to his own time, 2011, he discovers a very different world. Slavery wasn’t abolished, the French Revolution never happened, the British Crown rules the USA and his mother doesn’t know him because she didn’t meet his father. There was no World War Two either, and clockwork has a much bigger place in the world.
The clock work is the problem. The tic tocs as Charlie calls the clockwork men, are trying to kill the time travellers and to manipulate time to swing in the clockwork direction. He’s not quite sure why, but his father is trying to work it out. We don’t know by the end of the book, but that gives us a reason to read the next one. In this book, Charlie has to work out how, or if, he can set history back on course again, but that means travelling back in time to save Ben’s life, and with those murderous tic tocs after them, it’s not a simple matter.
The rules Gavin builds around time traveling are complex. Women can only travel uptime and men can only travel downtime, so travellers tend to travel in pairs. Sometimes I wonder how Charlie’s father manages to get around time as well as he does given the further restrictions the author places on their activity. Some of the meetings seemed rather too much a matter of chance for me.
‘Unarmed’ is well written with immediate prose, a streamlined plot, and a fast pace. It is also flawlessly edited and proofed. The descriptions of the different periods in history in America, China, France and London are very evocative, and the mix of a modern boy with a streetwise lass from old London is an interesting combination.