The Navigator

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Eoin McNamee
HarperCollins
0007209762
February 2006

The hero of this fantasy for older children/early teens is water-fearing, bullied loner Owen. Living in the shadow of his father�s apparent suicide, Owen keeps himself to himself, skives off school, and spends much free time in his den. As our story starts, on a bitter chill day, he is, as usual, out and about doing his own thing, visiting his own private places, when he encounters a tired, uniformed stranger. Moments later a strange phenomenon occurs: a dark flash in the sky, a moment of blackness across the land, and a feeling of change. The uniformed man seems to be the only other witness. It has begun, he tells the boy, grimly.

The �it�, we learn gradually, is a recurring battle between The Harsh, ghostly white creatures who wish to turn back time to total nothingness and the Resisters, a group of people who remain in suspended animation deep in the hillside until The Harsh make one of their attacks, and must then thwart them to save humanity. Already Owen�s familiar landscape, his house and neighbours, have disappeared, as time is sucked backwards. All that remains is the old building known as The Workhouse, which turns out to be the Resisters� HQ, and, across the river, the mini-empire belonging to Johnston, the scrap merchant, the chief ally of The Harsh it transpires. Yet evidently Owen himself has not disappeared. Is this because he happened to be in one of the �islands in time� when the Harsh started their time-sucking machine, or is it because he has some sort of role to play here, something connected with his dead father? As the first trenches are dug between the ancient enemies, the boy seems lost and helpless, just as he is in his own reality: but by the time (200 pages in) that the race to the icy north takes place, in order to turn off the offending machine (the �Puissance� � that�s �power� to you and me), Owen has discovered inner resources and an intuitive understanding of what must be done that are quite inevitable.

Can you tell? I struggled with this one. The basic concept�s okay and there�s no doubt that there are some fine chunks of imagination here - although these tend to be reserved for the various gadgets that Owen encounters in this new world of Resisters and Harsh rather than for the often quite stock characters - yet the overall effect is much too patchy. One has the feeling that a good sneeze would blow the fabric of this imagined world quite away, that there isn�t enough cohesion and weight in what the author would have us believe. Many of the gadgets and setpieces seem glued together without rhyme nor reason. Why the bits of French that crop up from time to time? Why are the bad guys, Johnston�s men, portrayed as Italian-type gangsters that seemed to belong to Inkheart rather than to the icy Harsh? Why is the Puissance in the north and where exactly is that north supposed to be? (Half the characters get there by boat, half by land in a car with huge bicycle-type wheels). I was never quite sure if this was meant to be a serious fantasy � la Garth Nix et al (to mix my languages) or more of a tongue-in-cheek romp.

It could be that this is a good book waiting to happen but released much too early, before the details and writing were properly worked out. Or it may be that it�s destined to be an absolute smash with a follow-up film and that I just can�t see it. It wouldn�t be the first time. Perhaps it will be right up there with Shadowmancer.

Every review, no matter where it appears, is just one person�s opinion.


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This page contains a single entry by Patrick Cave published on January 16, 2006 8:45 AM.

Dawn Undercover was the previous entry in this blog.

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