Review: TimeRiders- Gates of Rome; Alex Scarrow

“Let this be a proper new beginning for mankind…” (4 stars)

Source- personal copy

Published January 2012 by Puffin (Penguin)

Paperback edition- 448 pages 

After completing this, the fifth book in this brilliant YA series, it is getting more and more difficult to review these super novels without inadvertently giving away any spoilers! 

I started reading the TimeRiders books last year after hearing great things about them. After loving them all so far, I was determined that I wouldn’t just race my way through them (like I did the Gone series and others) and would instead savour them, rationing them out, if you will. That has been pretty tough to stick to, especially since little secrets have been continually divulged since the start of the series that I’ve been wanting to know more about, and this one sounded so fun, too- focusing on one of my favourite periods in history: Ancient Rome. Indeed, this book captures ancient Rome in all of its glory- the squalor and the decadence. 

The TimeRiders books themselves focus on three teenagers, all of whom were whisked away from inevitable deaths- Sal should have died in a house fire, Maddie in a plane crash and Liam on the Titanic. Now instead they are consigned to riding through time, detecting ripples that may affect events in history and cause the world we know today to be a very different place. Their job as TimeRiders is to prevent these events from happening, essentially ‘fixing’ history. 

So, it’s the fifth book and I have to say that time travel still confuses me. I don’t expect that to change in all honesty. What I have learned however is just to enjoy these books for what they are and try and ignore all of the confusing, technical-type bits that addle my poor little brain.  Also, you must read these books in their intended order. By now, it’s really no good going in there at book five, you need to start at the beginning.

I really loved the 54AD setting incorporated into this book. Ancient Rome is depicted as a grisly, brutal place and it is even worse than anticipated here: a madman is at its helm. Instead of Emperor Claudius being in power as was destined, we have the crazy Caligula. What is even worse is that owing to events in a future way ahead of ours, Caligula has something of a god complex. He is convinced, that he will someday ascend to heaven- and that time is now. 

Sounds confusing I know, perhaps even a bit bat-shit crazy. I probably don’t describe the story well enough to do it justice properly, but take it from me: these are amazing books- rife with atmosphere and real page-turner’s. Pretty gory too with lots of blood, battles and murders. Aimed at a young adult audience, I would personally be a bit wary of letting these get into the hands of really small kids as suffice to say I found Caligula quite terrifying and I am 30 something *cough* 

Another aspect I really enjoyed about this book was that it offers some terrifying glimpses into the future- into 2070 to be exact. Decades from now the environment has been destroyed, oil wars have begun and perhaps, most terrifyingly of all, both Palin and Swarzenegger have been president of the USA. Shudder. 

The characters are well-developed as always and this time the author borrows some characters from his brother’s books, too. Having not read Simon Scarrow myself (I know, hang my head in shame), I can’t comment on how successfully they made the switch from adult into children’s fiction, but I enjoyed reading about both Macro and Cato nonetheless. Secrets about the TimeRiders themselves were also brought to the fore in this one, which was something I’d been anticipating for the past couple of books. Also, my favourite character was in attendance- ‘Meat Robot’ Bob. There are some interesting new developments with the A.I. here and I’m keen to see this explored in future novels. 

I did find myself rolling my eyes at one character in particular though- a robot of the ‘SpongeBob Squarepants’ variety. Nothing personal but it just didn’t do it for me and I completely failed to see the humour in it. Also, I still feel that we don’t know enough about Sal. After the last book I hoped this wouldn’t be the case, but she does feel somewhat underused as a character. 

Nevertheless, exciting and pacey and filled with drama, tension and double-crossing, Gates of Rome is another excellent addition to the series. As ever, I can’t wait to read the rest! 

Other books in the series:

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