Review: Untimed by Andy Gavin

Untimed
Andy Gavin

Mascherato
Released December 17, 2012
325 pages
Sci-fi / Time Travel / ROBOTS!

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Charlie’s the kind of boy that no one notices. Hell, even his own mother can’t remember his name. And girls? The invisible man gets more dates.

 

As if that weren’t enough, when a mysterious clockwork man tries to kill him in modern day Philadelphia, and they tumble through a hole into 1725 London, Charlie realizes even the laws of time don’t take him seriously.

Still, this isn’t all bad. In fact, there’s this girl, another time traveler, who not only remembers his name, but might even like him! Unfortunately, Yvaine carries more than her share of baggage: like a baby boy and at least two ex-boyfriends! One’s famous, the other’s murderous, and Charlie doesn’t know who is the bigger problem.

When one kills the other — and the other is nineteen year-old Ben Franklin — things get really crazy. Can their relationship survive? Can the future? Charlie and Yvaine are time travelers, they can fix this — theoretically — but the rules are complicated and the stakes are history as we know it.

And there's one more wrinkle: he can only travel into the past, and she can only travel into the future!

Last year I had the luck to review Andy Gavin’s The Darkening Dream, which turned out to be a seriously creepy horror novel with proper vampires and interesting religious mythology that I wish I had more personal background knowledge regarding. So of course when it was brought to my attention that Gavin’s next book involved time travel and CLOCKWORK ROBOTS, I was all in, head-first.

Gavin handles the time travel elements and plot points well enough to make a satisfying book. It’s his narrator that drove me crazy. Perhaps I wasn’t in the mood to deal with the sex-soaked thoughts of a 15-year-old boy or maybe I’m prudish enough that the sexual relationship between the 18-ish year old Yvaine, who lives with a band of thugs, is a teenage mother and pickpockets in 18th century London and a modern day 15-year-old boy made me want to throw the book across the room and wash my hands.

At no point does the writing become graphic, but there’s something about hearing about it from the point of view of a teenage boy that squicks me out in a way that having it filtered through most YA female protags doesn’t (though I think the stark age gap would still bother me if the narrator was female). Perhaps if the same events had happened from a 3rd person POV, it wouldn’t have had the same effect. Then of course there’s chauvinistic references of ownership of Yvaine making my eye twitch and my need for someone to slap Charlie upside the head on a regular basis.

So basically I had issues with Untimed and they are all my issues, not the book’s. While Untimed doesn’t feel as polished or as well-knitted as The Darkening Dream, the world’s mythology is a lot of fun and the time travel rules make for some interesting conundrums more often than not. There are actual and obvious consequences to Charlie’s meddling and the more he pushes to set things right, the more he destroys his own future world. The clockwork mercenaries are suitably creepy and interesting, though it’s still unclear their origin, and the malevolent purpose seems a little two-dimensional to be the whole story.

The climax of the plot is incredibly gratifying after a lot of running and breaking things. While it didn’t turn the book into my brand new favorite, it dimmed my own personal issues with the narrative style and protagonist choices enough to truly enjoy the action and conflict between these well-meaning yet blundering time travelers and their clockwork pursuers. This is the beginning of a larger series, though the majority of problems caused by Charlie’s bumbling mistakes in history are mostly resolved.

Untimed has some great ideas, some mysteriously interesting clockwork assassins, and a crazy cool cover, but the protagonist plus having to see the events of the story told through his brain filter left me detached and a little awkward. Someone without my own personal hang-ups and desire to pummel teenage boys after only moments in their unfiltered brains would probably really enjoy this book and the continuing adventures soon to arrive. Gavin is great at world building and uses colorful language to create bold characters. This time I just couldn’t handle the particular character telling the story.