What a series! TimeRiders is without doubt my favourite series of novels. The bookshops may put the books on the shelves for teens or younger readers but make no mistake – Alex Scarrow’s TimeRiders series is ageless in its appeal and is scifi at its best. The reasons for this are simple: brilliant plotting, fine writing, an utterly intriguing premise and a bunch of teens that you cannot help but fall in love with.
Here is my brief synopsis of the premise from my tribute to TimeRiders on My Favourite Books: ‘Three teens are given a choice in the seconds before their death – choose life and become a member of an agency so secret no-one knows its name or die for sure. But this is no normal life that they’re offered. All three will live locked within a time bubble, lodged under an arch in New York City during the two days of 10 and 11 September 2001. Their job is to watch for timewaves and ripples; evidence that something has happened to alter the past and so change the present. When that occurs, they must go back in time and fix it. So Liam (Titanic 1912), Maddy (plane crash 2010) and Sal (fire 2029) are recruited by the old man Foster and joined by a seven-foot support unit, Bob, an artificial intelligence and a killing machine that they have grown in a tube within their bubble.’
There would be no sense in reading City of Shadows if you have not read the others first. There are threads of story that have twisted their way through the timeweaving plots since the beginning and now, as we reach the sixth book in a series that will number nine in total, we have reached a crucial point. Maddy, Liam and Sal are now beginning to have just an inkling of the significance of what has happened to them while we, the spellbound reader, is starting to understand the meaning of some of the events and characters that we have met through the novels.
It would be impossible to say much about City of Shadows without giving anything away. At this point of the series everything matters. To be brief and careful then, this novel picks up immediately from Gates of Rome and Maddy, Liam, Sal and Bob (as well as a couple of new additions to the team) are on the run. The difference in this book from the others is that for most of it the team are not trying to fix altered time, instead there is much more explanation of the reasons for the Agency as well as the motives of its creator. It is no less exciting and gripping for that. Adventures are many but now much of the drama is internalised inside our young and brave friends.
There is, though, a timeleap and this time we’re sent back to Holborn, London in 1888. Dangers walk these streets.
As you’d expect from Alex Scarrow, he can breathe life and thrills into every time period – whether we’re back fighting World War II, walking with dinosaurs, in Sherwood Forest with Robin Hood, in the American Civil War or scaring the wits out of ancient Romans, every page smells and tastes of the time. The dark, frightening and impoverished streets of the late Victorian East End are no less brilliantly described in City of Shadows. There are also vivid glimpses of future times. The past and future are always present in the TimeRiders novels.
But the main strength of City of Shadows, as it is in all the others, is the huge appeal of the brave and warm teens and their fiercely loyal bodyguard and friend Bob. After six novels we care very much. When this novel ends there is some comfort knowing that the next is just six months or so away. Time to start preparing myself for the end of the ninth…