Julian Rigby and the Keepers of Time by John S. Grammatico

Publisher: Shelby House (April 12, 2012)

Edition: Paperback

Plot: Julian Rigby is an orphan living with his granddad inside an old clock shop in London.  On the last day of school, Julian’s granddad’s shop is ransacked and the man himself goes missing. When granddad’s bridge club partners show up to take Julian in, a whole new world is opened to him, one in which his granddad is an important member of a secret society guarding time from all interlopers who wish to manipulate it for their own gain. With granddad missing and in the hands of what appears to be a megalomaniac intent on destroying time as he knows it, Julian is forced to choose between remaining the lonely orphan he’s been his entire life or  becoming the one thing that can stop a madman from destroying everything he holds dear.  His choice is easy but in order to save the day, he must follow his granddad and his captor through a time rift and into the unknown.  With the help of his two friends, Lily and Third, they embark on a journey of epic proportions that begs answers to these questions: what will become of Julian and the world as we know it? Will he be able to stop the villain in time? What’s on the other side of the time rift and will Julian be able to handle it when he gets there? Is he really the only one who can save the day?

Review: I know what you must be thinking: “shut the front door! This is not Judith or Ellen’s typical YA fare.  There’s no romance, no wayward high school students, and no angst. What the what???” But you know, folks, sometimes we gotta shake things up in here. So when the author, John Grammatico, contacted me to review his sweeping novel about a kid that saves time, I was ready to jump on board. I had grown a little tired of all the feelings and the love running rampant through today’s YA fiction and needed something different. And this promised to be different alright. It promised to be entertaining and grandiose, a true adventure tale a la Harry Potter. But let me be blunt: this is no Harry Potter.  I wanted to like this book, I really did. The premise hinted at grand things, the dynamics of time and the inevitable shift from boy to man.  But in the end, what it hints at and what it is are two VERY different things. I wanted to love it but ended up not really feeling engaged by it, a sad outcome for something that sounded so promising.

Right off the bat, we meet Julian Rigby, one of these mischief making British boys who is far too smart for his own good and who turns out to be more than he seems, some sort of chosen one for a society of time keepers.  The only problem is, he’s never really flushed out as a character and it’s like you’re reading an entire book about a caricature of a person. You never can quite figure him out.  All the information relayed to you about him is told via a third-party source; you’re not learning it through action or dialogue. The end result: you never feel like you can connect to him. This method of characterization, through an omniscient narrator who gives knowledge haphazardly, is fine when done well. But Julian and all the characters just fall flat.  They seem one-dimensional to a fault and, when action happens involving them, it feels forced and stilted.  Personally, the further the book went, the more I simply didn’t care about Julian or any of the other characters. They weren’t real to me at all.

Then there’s the writing itself. Let me just preface this with a hearty,  “it’s not bad”.  But that said, it’s not phenomenal either. A story like this one which is trying to describe the mundane transforming into the magical, well, it needs to be pitch perfect with the writing. There really are no descriptors or adjectives to describe the scenes and as a result, I could never visualize the locale or the exact nature of what was going on.  Also the action happens haphazardly and pretty sloppily. A great deal of the scenes feel as if they are imagined from some guidebook on how to write an adventure novel for young boys: Step 1. make him mischievous. Step 2. give him a plucky female friend and an older boy who was his enemy but learns to respect him as the story progresses. Step 3. Give him no parents and an aging grandfather who’s the member of a secret society and guardian of some weird secret that you never fully explain to the audience. Step 4. Have an evil character appear and kidnap Granddad, forcing the hero to realize his destiny.  I could go on and on but I’ll spare you. You know how it plays out. This sort of plot isn’t bad but it has been used and overused a lot so in order to make it feel fresh, you have to be an exceptional writer. And just to reiterate, the writing itself isn’t bad.  It’s just not developed. Plus it needs a good editor, one who’s not afraid to shake things up.  Some scenes are unnecessary while others that are crucial to the plot are skipped over quickly.  Action happens and you, the reader, can’t quite figure out how the characters got from Point A to Point B and yet there they are acting as if it were completely normal. Case in point, the friends Julian acquires befriend him as if by magic. We never get any in depth scenes showing how they went from a girl he met on the street and a bully trying to beat him to good friends willing to follow him through some time rift to save his granddad.  In my mind, that’s just sloppy story telling. And it’s things like this that crop up again and again and it proves disastrous for the story.

There’s also the foreign factor. You know what I mean, right? When you get a writer who is American writing about the British?  This can be done very well but here it’s not.  At one point one of the characters calls her mother, “mom” and later “mum”. All good and well but it’s just inconsistent and as all readers of  British novels know, you never would call your mom “mom” in England. There’s also the overuse of the word “guys” which strikes me as very American. These sorts of American-isms kept cropping up pretty consistently further instilling the idea that the writing needs a good editor.

In the end, if the author could flush out his characters more, give more meat to his story-telling, and clean up the whole of it so as to better explain the why of things, I think that this would be a much better read. As it stands now, I’m underwhelmed and can only call it passably good.  As a result, I’m giving this 4/10 stars.

Based on the following criteria:

How much did I like the hero: 5. Being that Julian is never really flushed out as a character, I didn’t really like him one way or another.  He was pretty one dimensional and I could never get a good grasp on his internal monologue. Maybe this is due to the fact that he’s a slightly younger character than we’re used to reading about (only 12-13) and I’m woefully out of touch with youth.  So I’m giving him as a character the benefit of the doubt and will say that if he was described a bit more and treated less as a flat caricature, then he would be a compelling main character.

How believable is the plot: 5. This is a fantasy book and as such, we have to suspend all beliefs we may have about the way the world works.  With that said, I can see rifts in time existing and crazy villains trying to control them.  But this plot is a little tired and I have to say that I’m just not buying the way it’s presented here. Plus this world that Julian et al go to is kind of annoying with animals that speak in rhyme which frankly seems ludicrous and unbelievable.

How much did I like the writing style/editing/etc: 4. The writing was never fully flushed out, a lot of description was missing, the characters were never fully realized, the action happened haphazardly, scenes were linked and situations happened without any precedent…the writing style is terse which I did like and the dialogue was passable.  There were no glaring grammar or spelling mistakes which always gets bonus points with me. But it felt unedited and just in need of someone not afraid to cut out stuff or demand that things be rewritten.

How much did I want to keep reading: 5. 

Final Score: 4/10. Okay, like I mentioned, there are a lot of problems with this story but it’s nothing that a good editor wouldn’t whip into shape.  I’d say give it a try if you’re in the mood for an adventure story set in a fantastical place but aren’t overly concerned about descriptions or the whys of things.

****Disclaimer: I got this book for free from the author. I swear I didn’t bribe him in any way, or get paid for my review. And we might not be legit enough to need this disclaimer but after working at a law firm for many years it’s better safe than sorry!****

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