Reviewed by Gerard Healy
A 16 year-old girl named Skye moves to New York and enrolls, with her twin brother Red, at an elite private school. While she navigates the difficult world of wealthy classmates, we are told of the strange disappearance of three other new girls in the recent past. Red gains entry into a select group, who have discovered a tunnel under Central Park. Using a special device, which does strain credulity, they appear to time travel into a bleak future. Skye is admitted also, after an act of kindness to the leader Misty.
In contrast to the more familiar ground of high school and its attendant issues, the writer introduces a novel end-of-days scenario involving Earth about to travel through a massive gamma radiation cloud. Scientific opinion is divided about the likely outcomes but the worst case outlook is extremely bleak for humans.
In contrast to most of Misty’s followers, who are depicted as vain, narrow-minded bullies, Skye is portrayed as caring, loyal, tough-minded and resourceful. The future grim world, in particular, throws Skye into several life and death situations. Another thread in Skye’s development is competition with Misty over the charming school captain, Bo.
The adults, who generally play only minor roles in the story, fall into two broad categories. The majority seem focused on wealth and status and are oblivious, or worse, to those less well off. A handful of adults are responsible guardians of their children and serve as more ethical role models. One father, for example, insists that his daughter earn her own money with part-time jobs.
Skye loves her father, but he has mental health issues and remains behind in Memphis while she now lives with her status-loving mother and step-father. She seems to have an ambivalent attitude towards these two. It also makes her quite self-reliant in terms of growing up generally.
The treatment of the poorly paid is one of the sub-plots of the novel and the author’s depiction of a French Revolution-type break-down of society one of its outcomes. You get the feeling that the author is hinting that some of the spoilt, obnoxious rich seem to get the nasty end they deserve.
A related sub-plot is the bullying that goes on at school and Skye’s difficulty in balancing her need to belong with her sense of fairness. We learn that at her previous school, Skye stood up for an under-dog and was turned on by the group. She took this rejection badly and it makes the decision, about whether to defend her friend Jenny, hard to make.
On an altogether different plane are the complex and controversial conundrums thrown up by time travel. Would you want to know what happens to you in the future? What about your family and friends?
The action moved along relentlessly with a series of near misses for the main characters. This kept me engaged to the end. Also, the atmosphere of dread in the future New York was sustained, as was the sometimes precarious fragility of teenage social groups. I did find some aspects of time travel rather difficult to accept, for example, the age restrictions on the runners, but this did allow for only a few initiates to take centre stage in the plot.
The tense and violent scenes around survival in the future, as well as the references to self-harm by some of the characters would suggest an adult and older teenage audience for this novel, in my opinion. However, the author believes that, ‘In the end (it) is a novel, plain and simple, and that readers of any age can enjoy it’ (333).
Overall, I’d recommend the novel.
Australian born Matthew Reilly self- published his first novel ‘Contest’ as a 19 year old while studying law. He writes mainly in the action/adventure genre (e.g. like the Scarecrow & Jack West series) and has sold over 7 million copies world-wide. He currently lives in Los Angeles.
By Matthew Reilly