If I were marooned on a desert planet in a distant star system and only allowed one set of books with which to pass the years, without doubt my choice would be the TimeRiders series by Alex Scarrow. I have raved about this series over the years more than any other and even though it’s targeted at youngsters it has triggered something in my imagination that is worth its weight in books of gold. Teenagers pulled out of their own time and thrown into the mysteries of the past, forced into solving conundrums that may either save or damn the future. We’ve had dinosaurs, Nazis, Romans, medieval knights and pirates and now we have the Mayans. And never is the reader spoken down to. This is brutal stuff. There is violence, disembowelment, death, cruelty, terror and much swashbuckling. They are also pleasingly complicated and intricate. I wish these books had been around when I were a teen. Luckily, though, they are around now and my inner youngster has loved every page.
The Mayan Prophecy is the eighth in a series that will end with the ninth. As a result, we have reached the business end of the series. This book is fed by what has come before, pulling it together, reminding us of clues, and it readies the characters and us for the conclusion. This means that you would be insane to attempt to read it without having thoroughly enjoyed in order the previous seven. Don’t even think about it – instead zap over here and buy the first. You have time to read all eight before the publication of the ninth next year. Please don’t read more of this review either as it is inevitably full of what has happened to the characters over the last months and years. You can find an introduction to the series and Maddy, Liam, Sal, Bob and Becks in my 2011 tribute to it here. From now on, this review assumes that you’ve been devouring the books as they come, usually in little more than a day (and they’re not short either), just like me.
In my opinion, The Mayan Prophecy is the very best of the series so far (I have high expectations for the final ninth, hence the so far). It has an excellent opening. The twists and knots of the series are complicated and Alex Scarrow brilliantly recaps the main clues in the opening chapters, making it all come flooding back. The characters have developed to such a degree that instead of back history we now have delicate relationships and tender observations of the changes that have marked Maddie, Liam and Sal, but also Becks and Bob. It is impossible not to care very deeply for this group of people and their more than robot support units. The stragglers have gathered over the novels too. Rashim is now joined by the return of Adam Lewis, a very poignant reminder from an earlier novel, and Bertie who has a role of his own to play in history. The revelations of the previous novels have caused a crisis for Sal and its course through the novel is harrowing and really quite traumatic to read.
Adventure is a crucial element of TimeRiders and we have it in bucketloads in The Mayan Prophecy. On the trail of clues to deciphering ancient manuscripts, including the Holy Grail, the team venture into the jungles of the Maya – in the war-stricken 1990s and in its superstitious and deeply different 15th-century past. What the team suffers in both periods is shocking and it is not sanitised. This series makes few allowance for young readers (except for a welcome lack of swearing) and there are even fewer in The Mayan Prophecy. The discoveries made in the jungle are staggering as the team come closer to discovering the intent of the mysterious Waldstein and the seemingly inevitable end of the world that is expected to take place in 2070. The prologue, though, as with all the prologues in the series, hangs over the rest of the novel, throwing us completely off course, contributing to the enigma of Waldstein and his plan to save or destroy the world. But which is it?
The twists and hints and clues are as tantalising and pleasing as ever. The drama and thrills kept me reading. I read the novel in a day. I could not go to bed with it unfinished. But the true triumph of The Mayan Prophecy is that Alex Scarrow is a master storyteller. He has created a brilliant premise and filled it with wonderful, complicated and endearing characters and has driven it on with the most exciting of adventures and puzzles. Not only is this the best of the series, it is also the goriest and most violent (I don’t think this is a series for the under tens), and it is marked by intense heartache. In other words, it gives me all that I want and makes me both long for and dread with almost equal measure the publication of the end next year. TimeRiders appeals to and finds the youngster in me. The books do me good to read them and because they are so superbly written I can trust that they will all be excellent and that the conclusion will do justice to this finest of series.
Other reviews of Alex Scarrow novels
Ellie Quinn – YA SF novellas
The Legend of Ellie Quin – review and interview with Alex Scarrow