Charlie Bone and the Time Twister

Charlie Bone and the Time Twister

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for its prequel, Midnight for Charlie Bone. You can read my review of this novel [here].

Charlie Bone and the Time Twister is the second book in Jenny Nimmo’s Children of the Red King series. It was first published in 2002 and is also sometimes just titled The Time Twister in early printings. It follows on directly from Midnight for Charlie Bone (2002) and is in turn followed by Charlie Bone and the Blue Boa (or The Blue Boa or Charlie Bone and the Invisible Boy – 2004), Charlie Bone and the Castle of Mirrors (or The Castle of Mirrors – 2005), Charlie Bone and the Hidden King (2006), Charlie Bone and the Beast (or Charlie Bone and the Wilderness Wolf – 2007), Charlie Bone and the Shadow (or Charlie Bone and the Shadow of Baddock – 2008) and Charlie Bone and the Red Knight (2010). More recently, there has also been a prequel series titled Chronicles of the Red King, of which three novels have so far been published.

In 1916, young Henry Yewbeam found himself at the end of a rather malicious prank. Angry at Henry for completing his jigsaw, Ezekiel Bloor tricked him into staring into a magical device called the Time Twister which sent him hurtling across time. In present day, he appears before a very surprised Charlie Bone. Charlie recognises his missing Great Uncle from a photograph instantly and promises to help him find a way home.

Yet Henry has arrived at the worst possible time. His arrival is also noticed by sneaky Billy Raven who reports it straight to the now ancient Ezekiel. Still eager to make his cousin suffer, Ezekiel sends all of the students loyal to him on a frantic hunt through the school. Their goal is to find both Henry and the Time Twister and return both of them to him.

Enlisting his friends Olivia, Fidelio and Gabriel, Charlie struggles to keep Henry’s whereabouts a secret. However, his own life is filled with all manner of other complications. His friends Lysander and Tancred have had a falling out and he desperately needs to find a way to patch it up. On top of it all, his aunts have a sinister plan. They want to use Charlie’s powers for their own gain but doing so will put him in grave danger…

If you read my review of Midnight for Charlie Bone, you might remember that I rather enjoyed it. It’s not a terribly original concept (taking a lot of its inspiration from the Harry Potter series) and did have some issues in plotting and characterisation but it was far from the worst thing that I’ve ever reviewed. All in all, I thought it was a rather nice light-read for middle graders and young teens. However, I found that I was rapidly losing my patience with the concept as I waded my way through the sequel. Let me tell you why.

The purpose of the first novel of a series is always to set the scene and that’s exactly what Nimmo did. Midnight for Charlie Bone was a little sloppy in places but it did introduce the core concepts of the universe. Charlie’s past, his family situation, who the endowed were, what their powers were and how the school was structured. None of these were really explored in detail but that was ok. It was just a first instalment and they were concepts that could be further developed in the sequel. My main problem was that they weren’t.

There is nothing new raised in Charlie Bone and the Time Twister that wasn’t already mentioned in Midnight for Charlie Bone. Questions that were left hanging in the first book such as why the Bloors kidnapped Emma and what happened to Charlie’s father weren’t even really touched upon. These are the hooks that really made me want to read further and so I was left feeling incredibly disappointed that the answers I needed weren’t more forthcoming.

The structure of the novel also had a lot of issues. Last time, I criticised the series for being overly simplistic but this time it’s even worse. The characters in this story, be they adult or child, are all incredibly dim. Charlie and his friends never seem to solve any problems for themselves. The thing they need just always seems to fall into their hands at just the right time.

For example Charlie’s Aunts leave him a painting of an evil sorcerer (the reason behind this being somewhat unclear at present) shortly before Charlie discovers he needs to move a really heavy rock. His Uncle then gives him a Welsh to English dictionary (again, with little reason as to how Patton knew this would be useful) and when Charlie enters the painting he manages to steal a magic wand from the Sorcerer that conveniently once belonged to a Welsh wizard. By combining the dictionary with the wand, Charlie can then lift the stone. The level of convenience here is quite staggering. How lucky that the two items Charlie would need would be given to him so freely!

The novel also contains far too many tangents. The story’s focus should have been Henry and the Time Twister but this was shunted to the background, often getting lost between the many unrelated subplots. The cast of this novel is massive and everyone seems to have their own little story – from Patton’s attempts to impress the woman he likes, to Cook’s seemingly unimportant backstory, to Gabriel’s need to help the mysterious Dark Lady. At one point, Henry is left trapped in a dungeon for over a week before Charlie and his friends get around to rescuing him. This made the story a very tiring read. The Time Twister arc could have been summed up in less than a hundred pages. The rest just felt like filler.

I should probably also point out the similarities with Harry Potter once again. I’m not going to go into this much (see my review of Midnight for Charlie Bone for more details) but it’s still very derivative of Rowling’s superior work. Even the concept of the Time Twister is very similar to the Time Turner from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. While Charlie Bone does change enough to not seem like an utter rip off (and the things that it does change such as the attitudes towards magic and whimsical feel of Charlie’s hometown are my favourite parts), it’s still distractingly similar to Rowling’s work and really suffers from this comparison.

However, the tone of the story could not be more different to that of Harry Potter. Midnight for Charlie Bone did have its share of nasty characters but Charlie Bone and the Time Twister was darker still. It reminded me in places of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, however as far as I could tell Charlie Bone is supposed to be taken seriously. Characters are very shallow and are largely divided into “good” and “bad” with no shades of grey or motivation of any kind. At one point, a woman runs her brother down in a car just to keep him out of the way (it’s unclear whether or not she intended to kill him but I wouldn’t put it past her). In another chapter, a little boy maliciously cripples his own mother to stop her from leaving a loveless marriage. Children get starved, tortured and attacked by dogs. It’s not graphic but it still happens. Even Charlie’s mother and grandmother are surprisingly keen to leave him alone with his Aunts, even though they know that they constantly abuse him! While the cover of this novel may look bright and cheerful, you might want to read it yourself before giving it to a sensitive child. It’s a surprisingly mean-spirited book.

Well, I guess I should wrap this up. Charlie Bone and the Time Twister isn’t a novel that I’d recommend. It doesn’t develop any of the questions raised in its prequel and is just a mean-spirited story filled with bland characters and an overly padded plot. I really hope that Nimmo manages to develop her universe more in Charlie Bone and the Blue Boa because I was left sorely disappointed by this instalment.

Charlie Bone and the Time Twister can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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