The first book in Patience Agbabi’s Leap Cycle introduced us to Leaplings – children born on February 29th – who have the power to travel through time. Its brilliant sci-fi premise inspired lots of leap-year-related chat in our house, so were looking forward to being reunited with athletics-loving Elle and her car-crazy best friend Ben, in the second book of the series.
In The Time-Thief, Ben and Elle are on a school trip to an unusual museum, when a precious artefact is stolen before their eyes. The daring theft has consequences in the past, present and future, including for Francis, a slave in 18th century London, and for their friend MC², who is imprisoned (in the brilliantly named Do-Time) accused of the crime.
It is up to Elle and her crime-fighting friends to solve the case and return the precious Infinity-Glass to its rightful home. The quest takes her between times and places and into situations that are dangerous, inspiring and sometimes over-stimulating, where she will learn lessons about trust, friendship and the strength of her own capabilities.
While much of the action in The Infinite was in the future, The Time-Thief delivers us to a richly-drawn past, where we experience the sights and smells of a vibrant capital (in which St Paul’s Cathedral was newly re-built) and are starkly reminded of the racial and social inequalities of the time. We love a story that gets us googling, and this one sparked our curiosity about topics from the first dictionary to the origins of ‘anonymous’ – and what exactly happened to the calendar in September 1752.
Elle and Ben are memorable characters whose supportive friendship underpins everything else. Their different neurodiversities (Elle is autistic and Ben has ADHD) can mean that everyday, as well extraordinary, situations are filled with challenge. This story shows us that the attributes that make daily life demanding for them are also integral to their partnership, passions and problem-solving gifts.
The Time-Thief is a smart and intriguing story full of clever clues that kept us guessing. It celebrates language and mathematics as equally powerful playthings, and reminds young readers that there are no boundaries to where your imagination can take you.
The Time-Thief, by Patience Agbabi (Cannongate)
This review was part of the blog tour for The Time-Thief. To see what the other reviewers thought, look out for their posts this month.