The Tar Man by Linda Buckley-Archer

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The Tar Man by Linda Buckley-Archer

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: The second volume in a trilogy, this is a glorious and sumptuous mix of historical fiction and time travel. It's impeccably researched, it's exciting, it's challenging and it's fun. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 448 Date: September 2007
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Childrens Books
ISBN: 978-1416917090

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In this second volume of her Gideon Trilogy, Linda Buckley-Archer sends eighteenth century villain the Tar Man to twenty-first century London. He wreaks havoc, but he's as accomplished a thief as he ever was. In fact, thanks to his ability to blur between time frames, he's better. An inordinate amount of Georgian art works are suddenly on the market. However, a penthouse flat in the London of today is not the height of the Tar Man's ambition. He has something altogether more momentous in mind - and if he achieves it, he could wrench apart the delicate fabric of time and space in a cataclysmic way.

While the Tar Man is brutalising modern London, Peter is stuck growing up in the eighteenth century. Eventually, he gives up hope of rescue and settles into life with Gideon. He grows up to be a real Georgian gentleman and sometimes it's difficult for him to even remember home clearly. Until, that is, his father and Kate turn up to rescue him - but Kate has fumbled the settings on the anti-gravity machine and they are thirty years too late. Peter decides to conceal his true identity and trust that they will be able to repair the time machine and make another rescue attempt; this time to find the twelve year old boy Kate left behind.

Ooh. Gosh. I loved Gideon The Cutpurse, the first book in the trilogy, but I loved The Tar Man even more. The ideas and paradoxes associated with time travel theory come more to the fore and there are some really challenging issues for young readers to think about. However, they blend seamlessly into the action, which is pacy and exciting but never - thankfully - frenetic, and they don't detract in the least from the wonderful picture of eighteenth century life Buckley-Archer conjours up. Kate and Mr Schock find themselves slap bang in the middle of the French Revolution and we hear about huge historical figures such as Thomas Paine and Robespierre, but we also get a wealth of small detail - what it's like to ride in a stagecoach, what food gets served at a child's birthday tea, when the first kangaroos arrived in Britain. It's such an utterly believable world - despite the time travelling - that it's as absorbing for an adult to read as it is a child.

This is all not to say that The Tar Man is one of those crossover - how I hate that term - books, though. It's pitched squarely at the ten to fourteen market. There's plenty of lively dialogue, the children are courageous and heroic - they tend to take charge while the adults dither around bemoaning tiresome things such as ethics. Which is just as it should be in an adventure story for children. So, while the plot and narrative is fast-moving with plenty of sparkling dialogue, the underlying ideas and themes are quite complex and challenging. The Tar Man really is great stuff. It comes highly recommended.

We don't see much of Gideon though. I'm hoping he's a big feature in the last volume - I quite fell in love with him in the first!

My thanks to the good people at Simon & Schuster for sending the book.

Readers who are enjoying the Gideon Trilogy might also like Frances Hardinge's Verdigris Deep which doesn't cover time travel but does look at the blurring when two worlds collide.

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