cover24601-smallTitle:  The Reluctant Assassin                                                          Author:  Eoin Colfer                                                                     Publisher:  Hyperion                                                                                   Publication Date: due out 5/7/2013                                         Format: galley proof                                                                              Genre: YA (speculative)

Rating:    Time travel, fantastic images of victorian and modern london, and a super-villan, who really does seem to be evil incarnate:  who wouldn’t like book like that?  Due out from Disney Book Group in May, this new Eoin Colfer has good action scenes, and an unbelievably easy-to-follow structure for a narrative that takes place across hundreds of years.  With a feisty protagonist and his girl-hero, the concept of this book is impeccable.  It slows down in parts, and wasn’t compelling enough for me; but, the effort it takes to read through the  unnecessarily complicated development of the two main characters is justly rewarded.  If you are an absolute fan of time travel novels or of Eoin Colfer, this book is worth your time.

Overview (reprinted from NetGalley):  Riley, a teen orphan boy living in Victorian London, has had the misfortune of being apprenticed to Albert Garrick, an illusionist who has fallen on difficult times and now uses his unique conjuring skills to gain access to victims’ dwellings. On one such escapade, Garrick brings his reluctant apprentice along and urges him to commit his first killing. Riley is saved from having to commit the grisly act when the intended victim turns out to be a scientist from the future, part of the FBI’s Witness Anonymous Relocation Program (WARP) Riley is unwittingly transported via wormhole to modern day London, followed closely by Garrick.  

  In modern London, Riley is helped by Chevron Savano, a nineteen-year-old FBI agent sent to London as punishment after a disastrous undercover, anti-terrorist operation in Los Angeles. Together Riley and Chevie must evade Garrick, who has been fundamentally altered by his trip through the wormhole. Garrick is now not only evil, but he also possesses all of the scientist’s knowledge. He is determined to track Riley down and use the timekey in Chevie’s possession to make his way back to Victorian London where he can literally change the world.

imagesReview:  The simplicity with which Eoin Colfer moves his plot, setting and relationships among characters between centuries makes the structure of this novel roughly the architectural equivalent of the Kölner Dom.  A beautiful medieval German cathedral built over 750 years by more than twice that many people. Both the Dom and the novel are intricate symbols of man’s fight to establish good in the world.

The novel suffers slightly from that complexity and the development of the two main charcters becomes a bit piecemeal, large keystones in the arcs of each teen-ager’s trajectory seem shoved in here and there.  The angles and shadows they produce are slightly askew, leaving the reader to question the truth of their histories, and more questions arise the further one reads.  Both Riley, the protagonist, and his champion Chevie are unreliable as witnesses to their own history and surroundings.  Much like a realtionship with a real-life acquaintance, though, if you take the effort to invest in their stories, you will be rewarded.

This novel has a very complex narrative structure in which a highly suspenseful continuous plot bounces back and forth between London “today” and London 1898.  In a masterful way, Colfer manages this gap as if it were nothing more than going from the ground floor to the top of any building.  Somehow the narrative manages to build suspense while leaping through advanced concepts of quantum physics.

The story picks up quite a bit when Riley and Chevie make a final escape into Victorian London, but Garrick the evil super-villain mages to follow.  From there forward the progression of the characters is more linear, and build to the cliff-hanger ending. If you can relate to the characters and enjoy the concepts, you’ll be biting your nails for the sequel.