The Time Thief
A book review for parents
This time-travel novel is the second book in "The Gideon Trilogy" by Linda Buckley-Archer and is published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
The Time Thief is written for kids ages 10 to 14. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
In book one, British 12-year-olds Kate Dyer and Peter Schock inadvertently activate an antigravity time machine on which Kate's father (Dr. Dyer) and other NASA scientists are working. The kids find themselves in the year 1763, where they meet a new friend, Gideon, and a villain called the Tar Man before Dr. Dyer locates them. In Dr. Dyer's rescue, he returns to the 21st century with Kate, the Tar Man and a street urchin named Tom while stranding Peter in the 18th century.
In The Time Thief, Kate overhears her father and his co-researcher discussing whether they will destroy the antigravity machines. The scientists fear their discovery of time travel will result in untold chaos for humanity. Unwilling to leave her friend in the 18th century, Kate convinces Peter's father to go back in time with her to rescue his son. A glitch lands them in the year 1792, where Peter is a grown man who has long since given up on being rescued. When he discovers Kate and his father have arrived, he befriends them but hides his true identity because he knows they want him as a 12-year-old, not a grown man. He vows to help them get the now-broken time machine repaired so they can return to 1763 to retrieve 12-year-old Peter. Kate, Mr. Schock and Peter travel to France during the French Revolution to find the Marquis de Montfaron, the only scientist who may be able to help them repair their antigravity device. All the while, Kate physically grows pale and nearly fades away. Though she was initially able to "fade," or transport herself briefly back to the 21st century, she often finds herself trapped between the two time periods or fast-forwarding several seconds into the future. The Marquis manages to repair the time machine, and he travels to the 21st century along with Kate and her father. Meanwhile, Kate's father has taken the second machine to 1763 and retrieved Peter. A happy reunion ensues at the modern-day Dyer home. Interwoven throughout this story is an account of the Tar Man and his adventures in the 21st century. With the aid of a young boy, Tom, and a young woman named Anjali, he learns how to scheme, cheat and steal in a new era. But despite all the wealth he accumulates, he realizes he will always be a low-life criminal unless he returns to the 18th century and rewrites history. The Tar Man steals both machines and goes back to the 18th century. The Tar Man's former master, Lord Luxon, steals one time machine from the Tar Man and decides to make his fortune in the 21st century.
Before Gideon was to be hanged, he prayed for himself and the man who falsely condemned him. He later writes that being imprisoned brought clarity to his soul and taught him not to take life for granted. When Peter's horse eats a reverend's flowers, the reverend jovially forgives him saying, "the Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away." Dr. Dyer's co-researcher silently prays that the world would not suddenly crumble into dust. Peter rescues a woman who is wearing a crucifix. She falls to her knees and makes the sign of the cross when she is safe. Peter, Hannah and others use phrases like "Lord knows," "Lord be praised," "God willing" and "Thank the Lord." Mr. Schock mentions an ex-priest who became a brutal killer in the French Revolution. Several times, Kate wonders if Peter is her guardian angel. Peter says that when the powers of intellect prove insufficient, blind faith is our only alternative. Montfaron says whatever is the truth is the truth; our inability to comprehend it doesn't change anything.
Although Dr. Dyer disapproves of Kate's decision to return to the 18th century, he ultimately helps her when he sees her determination. He and his co-researcher, as guardians of the time travel secrets, struggle with how to best serve humankind with their knowledge. Peter's father regrets that he's often put work or other activities ahead of his son. His trek back in time to find Peter demonstrates his desire to strengthen their relationship. The Tar Man fiercely protects Anjali and Tom from physical danger, but his protégés are a means to an end. They fear him and know harm will come to them if they cross him. Lord Luxon, the Tar Man's former employer, steals secrets and a time machine from the Tar Man.
Other Belief Systems
The Tar Man believes fate has led him to the magic (antigravity) machine. Kate recalls how she met Erasmus Darwin in the 1700s and told him his grandson, Charles, would discover evolution. A reverend's daughter tells Peter she's certain Kate is possessed or a witch. Dr. Dyer's co-researcher believes that domes are magical, such as the one inside St. Paul's Cathedral. She likes to stand under them in hopes of hearing a higher frequency than humans typically hear and getting a glimpse into some secret world with the help of a benevolent force. Kate's brother, Sam, gives his dad his lucky stone as Dr. Dyer prepares to go back in time. Hannah calls the sunshine after rain a good omen.
The Tar Man sometimes uses phrases like "D--n their eyes," or "by the devil,"and Dr. Dyer's co-researcher uses the Lord's name in vain once. A man doing business with the Tar Man asks how the heck he is able to get away with his crimes. The Tar Man dislocates one opponent's arm with a loud crack. He nearly strangles a police inspector. There are several mentions of the bloodiness of the French revolution. In one scene, a maid tells in detail of the horror: She says broken, bloody bodies littered the courtyard, and she describes the screams as men were ripped apart. She opened her window and saw the severed head and entrails of a man. Mr. Schock is afraid to get a shave with a straight razor because it conjures up fountains of blood spurting from his throat. Hannah believes a minor character's bruises may have come from a beating by her husband. A man brutally attacks Anjali. When Tom tries to save her, the attacker throws him down the stairs. Tom's head cracks open, and he dies. After the Tar Man and Lord Luxon use the time machines, Peter, Kate and Gideon experience a frightening scene. They hear a great roar, an apocalyptic tremor, and see ghost-like people from other worlds staring at them. The narrator says ghosts seeped through the walls of time like blood soaking through a linen shirt.
As her husband prepares to travel into the future, the Marquise de Montfaron says she would have preferred a husband who took many lovers rather than one who was so obsessed with knowledge.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- What prevents Drs. Dyer and Pirretti from immediately using the time machine to retrieve Peter?
What do they fear may happen if they travel through time again?
What does the Tar Man want to do with the time machine?
Do you think time travel would be a positive or negative discovery? Why?
- What was the Tar Man's first response to life in the 21st century?
What did he grow to like about his new surroundings?
What did he dislike?
What did he determine about people and human nature after living in two different time periods?
- How did the Tar Man make his living when he first arrived in 21st-century England?
How did he use technology and his newfound skills of fading back to the 1700s to make his work more profitable?
How did he drag Anjali and Tom into his schemes?
What kind of lives did Anjali and Tom lead before and during their experiences with the Tar Man?
What does the Bible say about the kind of people with whom you should keep company?
What would you have said or done if you could have talked to Tom and Anjali?
- What led the Tar Man to a life of crime?
How did being unjustly imprisoned during the 18th century fuel his anger?
How does this anger carry over when he learns Gideon is his brother?
How does his anger show itself in his relationships with Anjali and Tom, and in his dealings with others in the 21st century?
How can being intensely angry make a person dangerous to himself and others?
How do you manage your anger?
- If you could live in another time period, which would you choose and why?
What do you think would be better about that era than the 21st century?
What would be harder or worse?
- How was alcohol mentioned and used in this book?
Which situations involving alcohol bothered you the most?
- What does the Marquis de Montfaron say is the key to a man's happiness?
How did Peter's attitude allow him to grow into a confident, well-to-do man, despite being trapped in another century?
What would have become of him if he had wallowed in self-pity rather than moving forward?
What are some struggles you're facing?
How could you make them better by approaching them with a positive attitude?
- Why was Kate so desperate to go back to the 18th century to find Peter?
How did her parents feel about her going after him?
Was her behavior noble or disobedient?
- Why did grown-up Peter lie about who he was?
What was he afraid of?
What did he learn about his father in the course of his deception?
What does the Bible say about deceit?
Lying: Drs. Dyer and Pirretti create a story about Kate having amnesia to keep the police from learning about the time machines. Kate hates having to lie to the police. Kate's friend lies to get Mr. Schock's phone number. Kate lies about planning to go to bed when she's really getting ready to travel to the 1700s in the time machine. Peter lies to conceal his identity from Kate and his father, and he drags servants and friends into his deception. He feels a bit guilty when he realizes what a skilled liar he has become.
Drinking: The Tar Man frequents bars and drinks many types of alcohol, though he tells a drunk man he robs that one should never let alcohol get the upper hand. The Tar Man and the 15-year-old Tom drink a significant amount of beer at the Tar Man's home one night. An 18th-century parson often comes to visit Gideon, bringing a bottle of his best wine. The same parson offers 12-year-old Peter punch that makes his head spin. Another reverend offers wine to the grown-up Peter when he looks pale. The 21st-century police inspector celebrates finding some clues by picking up Chinese food and several bottles of beer. Another time, the inspector drinks at a pub. Louis-Philippe, son of the Marquis de Montfaron, enters the room hung over. He has wagered that he could drink more wine than his friend could eat pickled herrings. Dr. Pirretti brings champagne to toast Dr. Dyer as he prepares to go back in time. Hannah and Kate have to push a man's head back into his carriage because he is passed out after too much rum. At the welcome home party for Kate, Peter and their dads, everyone is hyper because of the champagne.
Smoking: As an adult in the 1700s, Peter smokes a pipe. He recalls the warnings he saw in the 21st century about the dangers of smoking and remembers his parents' dislike for the smell, but he feels so removed from that life, it's like he dreamed it.
Other: Kate removes penicillin from her family's medicine cabinet and takes it back in time with her. It ends up saving someone's life.
Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.