#RRSciFiMonth YA Weekend: Invictus by Ryan Graudin
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (September 26, 2017)
Length: 458 pages
As you probably know, I was very excited to read Invictus after Ryan Graudin’s Wolf by Wolf duology landed her squarely on my radar for new favorite YA authors to watch. Also, as much as I harp on time travel stories and the issues surrounding some of their shortcomings, I can never resist checking them out, especially one with a premise as intriguing as this one.
The story introduces us to protagonist Farway Gaius McCarthy, a young man with a very unique background. Conceived in 95AD as the result of a love affair between a time-traveling Recorder and a Roman gladiator, Far was born just as his mother Empra and her crew were in the middle of jumping back to their own year of 2354. While the entire truth behind the circumstances of his birth was kept a secret (and not just because of the whopping number of time laws Empra broke), nothing can be changed about the fact that Far was born out of time, and his existence has vexed census databases and record-keeping computers ever since.
Growing up though, Far has always wanted to follow in his mother’s footsteps and explore history, especially after Empra left on a mission when he was just a boy and never made it back. Motivated by the possibility that he will one day find and rescue his mom, the now seventeen-year-old Far is determined more than ever to ace his final exams at the academy to become a full-fledged licensed time traveler. However, an odd glitch occurs in the middle of his simulation test, leading to a failing grade and expulsion from school. Disgraced but not discouraged, Far decides to pursue another path that would allow him to travel through time, taking on a job as a black market smuggler whose specialty is stealing and bringing back treasures from the past.
With the help from his crew that consists of his Historian cousin Imogen, his medic girlfriend Priya, and an engineer named Gram, Far captains the ship Invictus for their shady employer, whose latest mission for them requires going back to 1912, on the fateful night that the Titanic sank. Their prize is a priceless jewel-encrusted book that went down with the ship—but of course, it is Far’s job is to retrieve it before it is lost to the icy depths and bring it back to his own time with no one being the wiser. Unfortunately though, even before the heist can begin, the crew of the Invictus runs into trouble. A computer malfunction leads them to arrive hours after their scheduled time, and once Far makes it onto the Titanic to steal the book, he discovers that someone has already beaten him to the punch.
I really liked how this book was an adventure story at its heart, and with Ryan Graudin, you can always trust her to keep things exciting and fast-paced. The science behind the time travel was admittedly a bit light, but I found I could easily overlook this minor flaw in a Young Adult novel which is clearly more concerned with telling a good story rather than get bogged down by the little details. I also loved the overall premise as well as the protagonist’s origin story. There are already other books out there about time traveling thieves who plunder history to bring back treasures from the past or otherwise I would have been more impressed, but I did enjoy how the author made this one feature an ensemble cast, involving all the other members of the Invictus crew.
As for weaknesses, while I wouldn’t say there was anything I flat-out disliked, there were a few stylistic choices and a couple character or plot-related pet peeves that got on my nerves. For one, I found it difficult to sympathize with anyone on the crew. Far is reckless and impetuous, and thinks rules don’t apply to him, except he’s got none of the good qualities that typically go hand-in-hand with the “loveable rogue” persona. He’s unabashedly arrogant and has an ego the size of a planet, which is why I also thought his girlfriend Priya, despite being an extremely intelligent young woman, is an idiot for putting up with that crap. I never got on board with their relationship for this reason, but theirs was not the only romance I felt was hokey either, for you see, Far’s cousin Imogen also harbors a secret crush on the ship’s engineer Gram, and the whole hackneyed business with the quirky girl trying to get the nerdy but oblivious guy to notice her was downright eye-roll inducing.
Furthermore, because this book is so light on the details of time travel, we don’t get to know much about the history or mechanics of it. This by itself wouldn’t have been such a big deal, except there is a plot twist in the second half of the novel which complicates things further. To avoid revealing spoilers, I won’t be going into this issue in detail, but I will say that because the author failed to establish some basic rules and concepts early on, the story at the end became a bit of a mess, and so just be prepared for some potential confusion.
As you can see though, my complaints are mostly personal, related to problems that most other readers might not mind at all. That said, I would probably recommend Wolf by Wolf over this one if you’re curious about checking out Ryan Graudin’s work, because objectively, I still feel it’s a stronger book. Nevertheless, you can’t go really wrong with Invictus, especially if you’re looking to satisfy a sci-fi itch; no matter what, its blend of adventure and time travel make it an entertaining read.