Overall opinion: Good book, not perfect, sometimes silly, but still a well-researched, good Sci-Fi for young adults.
Disclaimer: This review was NOT sponsored.
“Are you you without your memories? If not, who do you become?”
Author: Ryan Graudin
Publisher (Italian): Mondadori
Publication date: 2018 (Italian), 2017 (English)
Genres: SciFi, Young Adult
Book Depository: link
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Summary (short & sweet)
Farway Gaius McCarthy is a special young man: he was born in a dimensional tunnel between time and space, the son of a 2354 AD time-traveling Recorder and a gladiator from Ancient Rome. That’s why Farway’s (Far’s) birth date is uncertain, as it is his own future. In fact, on the day of his final exam to become a Recorder like his mother, something goes wrong during the simulation and Far is forced to undertake his dream career by other (less legitimate, more dangerous) roads during which he will experiment the strength of friendship, love and the spirit of sacrifice. Because something is not right in the multiverse created by time travel, and Far could be the only one who can remedy the space-time “breach” that has arisen.
When I bought Invictus at a local bookstore, it was because the cover and the idea of a boy born out of time, with a parent from the future and one from the past, excited me so much that I decided I should buy and read it on the spot. In fact, I read it almost immediately, a few days after the purchase, and I didn’t put it down until I finished it, dragged along by the events narrated and the characters to whom I soon grew affectionate thanks to Graudin’s prose.
However, the prose is not perfect. Banal moments (and metaphors) strike you when you least expect it, interrupting the narrative rhythm.
the pregnant belly round like a globe under the indaco stole
(Like a globe?)
“Who do you love the most?” It seemed like a dangerous query, the way it was asked: razored syllables, hungry breath beating, beating against the black.
(Beating against the black? How is that a way to describe a way to ask a question?! Too much rhetoric makes for confusion, you know…)
But the Italian translator didn’t do the prose justice either when she translated
blistering midday light
purulent full light of midday
See, these stylistic falls made my nose turn up a lot. Exaggerated rhetoric, unless deliberate, disturbs the narrative and hinders the atmosphere that was created in the mind of the reader.
The other element of disturbance in the prose is the presence of comments (by the narrator) of the type:
Typical boys and their monosyllabic answers.
They nodded at each other as most boys do: quick and curt.
These elements clash with a futuristic vision of a society where gender roles are reduced to the minimum, and it is clearly a reference to the vision and culture of the author, which however is not reflected in the context of the novel.
However, most of the narrative is dynamic, compelling, well-written, reminding me of Asimov’s books with which I grew up (although Graudin is definitely not on the level of good old Isaac.)
The main characters — Far and his crew and the mysterious Eliot — are introduced a little at a time, until we feel like we’ve known them for a long time:
- Far is the undisputed protagonist, the boy born out of time
- Imogen is his loyal cousin and longtime friend, passionate about history and fashion from other eras
- Priya is the ship’s doctor, a sensitive girl with a great love for music
- Gram is the mathematician, the programmer who, when immersed in a problem, can’t get out of it
- Eliot is … well, a rather peculiar girl (but I don’t want to spoil that for you).
Worldbuilding unfolds as the narration proceeds.
We learn that in the year 2354 AD time travel has shaped culture and society, particularly that of the Central metropolis. The rich can afford real food, vintage clothing and advanced gadgets to use in everyday life, while the poor have to settle for replicas and synthetic food.
The use of daily and spiritual slang is also very interesting: “be hashed”, “a fex of…”, “Hades’ clangers!”, the Crux sign. Graudin was brilliant in the coining of these terms that give the worldbuilding a touch of originality and underline how different the created world is from today’s Western world.
The themes of the narration can be summarized as:
- The pros and cons of time travel, primarily the danger of changing the course of history
- The art of being content and happy with the few resources available at your disposal
- Being faced with the pain of those who lived in the past and those who will live in the future, and not being able to make a difference
- Personal sacrifice when the fate of an entire people (or an entire universe) is at stake
Finally, my favorite quote in the book (a powerful one) on the meeting of Far’s crew of Far with the Titanic ship:
Here: hovering above the song of the dying. Most time travelers Priya knew preferred to say already dead, as if the inevitability of the tragedies they encountered made them less tragic. Her Medic training couldn’t write off a life so easily. How many people were about to freeze to death down there? How many children? It hurt even more to think of these numbers, these lives, when the Invictus hovered a mere thirty meters away.
In the end, I loved Invictus. The small flaws may have pushed me to give a four-star Rating instead of five, but I enjoyed every single page of this epic science fiction novel for young adults with courageous and generous young people as protagonists.
This is my first Graudin book. Given the satisfaction with this one, I believe I will read more of her work in the future.
If you enjoyed Outlander, Doctor Who and the three Back to the Future movies, I invite you to read Invictus. While this work is not at the level of other science fiction books and movies you may have read/seen, it’s still a great entertainment read that also contains important reflections on life.
Thank you for reading this far! Enjoy the book!