by Andy Gavin
It’s a somewhat silly preconception of mine, and one I will happily battle and do away with. But when I see a book with pictures in it . . .
no, not those kind of pictures, get your minds out of the gutter 😉
Aaaanyways. When I see a book with pictures in it, I automatically think something more geared for children. Which is rather why Untimed (By Andy Gavin) gave me such a pleasant surprise. I had the distinct pleasure of reading this book over the past week, and thoroughly enjoying being taken for a crazy time-traveling ride alongside the book’s protagonists, Charlie and Yvaine.
Charlie is a teenage boy in Philadelphia during the year of 2011, and he’s got a curious problem as the first sentence in the book sheds light on.
“My mother loves me and all, it’s just that she can’t remember my name.”
It turns out its more than just his mother. The entire world seems to have trouble remembering who Charlie is. His 9th-grade school teacher always looks a tad puzzled when she reads his name at roll call, as though seeing it for the first time. In track and field competitions, at which he is quite good, he never wins a thing, as though he never even participated.
The only people who remember his name are his father and aunt, who come and go over the months at oddly timed intervals. Obviously, more than a curious start to a book. And from there, it only gets stranger. A strange man pretending to be a police officer comes to their house, hunting for Charlie’s father and aunt, Charlie closes the door on his father’s study and goes to see what the ruckus at the front is, and yet when the police barge into the study, they find neither father nor aunt, and no possible way for them to have escaped.
A confused call to the police afterward reveals that the man who barged into their house was not an officer, his warrant a fake. Obviously, Charlie is curious about a great many things. Why people can’t seem to remember who he is, except for his father and aunt, why they go away at strange times, stay gone for months, and come back looking slightly older than they should.
Weeks then months go by as Charlie waits for his family to return. And then one fateful (or perhaps fortuitous) day, he spies the man who had pretended to be a police officer. Being a self-assured teenager with a knack for not being remembered by people five minutes after walking away from them, he follows the man a few short blocks to the shell of Benjamin Franklin’s house, now a mere steel ghost of what it had been so many years before.
And here, the curious not-policeman does a really, really weird thing. He unbuttons his coat, and winds himself. Like a clock.
“There’s no shirt under his jacket – just clockwork guts, spinning gears, and whirling cogs.”
The curious clockwork man spies Charlie, attempts to catch him, and then a manhole-sized circle opens beneath the man and he falls through it. Charlie senses a connection between this clockwork man and his father and aunt’s disappearance, figures his best chance to figure out exactly what’s going on is to follow the man, and promptly jumps through the hole.
Smack-dab into London, 1725.
From there, the story becomes an endearing mixture of young love and lethal time-travel. Charlie is fortunate enough to run across a girl in this time, Yvaine, who can remember his name. She seemingly has the same problem as he, in that everyone else forgets her five minutes after looking away. But the two of them can remember each other.
For spending the majority of their young lives in unwanted anonymity, the two quickly draw together. She explains that they are time travelers, with a curious set of rules. Boys can only travel backwards in time, girls can only go forwards. They can take one other traveler with them in a time-jump, thus necessitating pairing up, presumably as his father and aunt have done. She also explains that there are many clockwork men, and they rather seriously want the time-travelers dead.
These first few chapters set the stage for some hilariously goofy antics, and an almost automatic love story between Charlie and Yvaine. And what strikes me most is their relationship over the course of the book. They are both more than a bit hotheaded, but are each endearing.
Charlie’s inner monologue gives a fair bit of the humor found in the book as he brings a 2011 teenager’s view to 1725 and time-travel in general. But then, despite the fact that he wants very badly to get home to his mother in the future, is also terribly smitten with his newfound companion. As for Yvaine, she’s a young pickpocket with a knack for surviving no matter the cost. She, complete with cockney accent and a really, really jaded view (or should I say pragmatic?) of the world, is his source of information and companionship. The two aren’t much of a match, but over time come to love each other and sacrifice for each other.
The only big thing I found jarring with this book was the aforementioned pictures. And they are by no means “bad”. In fact, the artwork is rather good, and the pictures are used sparingly, about once per chapter to highlight important scenes. But as I said, the last book I read with pictures in it was geared definitely towards children, and Untimed is just as definitely not. It’s a tale rife with danger, romance and even a single case of accidentally using a founding father as a human shield.
And it’s a jolly good tale at that.
Give it a read, I think you’ll find Charlie and Yvaine’s romantic journey through time as haphazard and endearing as I.