(2016) Scott K. Andrews, Hodder & Stoughton, £13.99, trdpbk, 357pp, ISBN 978-1-444-75209-0
Continuing the story of Timebomb, Second Lives returns us to Andrews’ complex time travel narrative of Jana, Kaz and Dora as they struggle to prevent a cataclysmic event at Sweetclover Hall in AD 2158.
The second instalment of Andrews’ adventure begins robustly, launching straight into the complicated interweave of past, present and future. At the end of Timebomb, our principal protagonists managed to save the lives of Dora’s family, but the consequences of their entangled time travelling interventions clearly have yet to play out.
Second Lives gives greater insight into the crisis that caused the three to gain their powers. We learn more about the time bomb of the first novel’s title and the narrative moves quickly to establish this as the problem that Jana, Kaz, and Dora have to face.
Once again, for the most part, we have a dialogue drive novel. However, the aging of Dora from being the youngest of the three to the oldest, makes some of the viewpoint and interchange a little more mature, reflecting the state of the characters. The layers of time travel complexity are something the reader is more prepared for, having become familiar with Andrews’ handling of this in the previous episode and this is necessary as the differing viewpoints are entangled with both Dora and Kaz now able to jump forwards and backwards through time on their own.
At times, Andrews’ uses time travel to resolve consequences, which can lead to some problems in accepting outcomes. Characters suffer, but return recovered as short plot compressed time jumps allow them weeks to recuperate in hospital, which in turn allows the writer to plough straight on with their next adventure, towards the final conclusion. In addition, many of the explanations of time travel in this context and its dangers are confusing. Characters who feel less knowledgeable than the reader, accept conclusions that don’t fit with the referential experience on the topic other books bring and often their isn’t enough space on the page given to detail the reasons for how it all works, before another burst of action requires any questioning to be set in abeyance.
That said, so long as you don’t look left or right and question matters in too much detail, Second Lives is a much more assured story than its predecessor. The focus on Kaz, easily the most interesting of the three protagonists and his life in Beirut with his parents is intriguing, particularly as we revisit the car bomb attack that killed his mother. Andrews’ handles Kaz’s attempts to save her with much more finesse and poignancy than the equivalent actions by Dora at Sweetclover Hall in the first book.
Dora too has changed and become more interesting. Her three years away from the others makes her the oldest now and her training and martial experience transforms her from weakest to strongest in a physical confrontation. It is a shame all the detail on how this happened has been left out, but then, as this is a time travel book, we can’t rule out Andrews’ revisiting the context in a future chapter.
The conclusion of the story revolves around more iterations of the three’s adversary, Quil and further detail about Jana’s family. Finally, we learn about what happened after Jana jumped from the roof of the building in AD 2140, who her family is and why they are so important to the future of Earth and humanity.
Second Lives is a strong follow up to Timebomb. Andrews has hit his stride with this book and whilst weaknesses in description and some narrative choices remain, the confusing tone of the predecessor is much less of a concern. The time travelling triumvirate are easier to follow and with less dramatic context set in AD 1640, the writing seems to be on much stronger ground. The sketching of a future set on Earth and Mars is still somewhat thin at times, but works well enough when the pace is kept high and we aren’t encouraged to ask too many questions. The improvements in characterisation certainly help the story too and bode well for a further adventure in this series.
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