Riley, a teen orphan boy living in Victorian London, has had the misfortune of being apprenticed to Albert Garrick, an illusionist who has fallen on difficult times and now uses his unique conjuring skills to gain access to victims' dwellings. On one such escapade, Garrick brings his reluctant apprentice along and urges him to commit his first killing. Riley is saved from having to commit the grisly act when the intended victim turns out to be a scientist from the future, part of the FBI's Witness Anonymous Relocation Program (WARP) Riley is unwittingly transported via wormhole to modern day London, followed closely by Garrick.
In modern London, Riley is helped by Chevron Savano, a nineteen-year-old FBI agent sent to London as punishment after a disastrous undercover, anti-terrorist operation in Los Angeles. Together Riley and Chevie must evade Garrick, who has been fundamentally altered by his trip through the wormhole. Garrick is now not only evil, but he also possesses all of the scientist's knowledge. He is determined to track Riley down and use the timekey in Chevie's possession to make his way back to Victorian London where he can literally change the world.
Eoin Colfer is indeed back at it again. Upon the completion of his widely acclaimed Artemis Fowl series, I genuinely hoped he would come back with something equally as charming. He's always had this way of writing compelling characters. Whether they are serious or humorous, human or alien or demon or fae, they've always felt real; like you wanted to be their friend, or were relieved they were on the other side of the page. And sure enough, once again Colfer doesn't disappoint.
Riley has been an unwilling apprentice to a murderer for as far back as he can remember. But though fear keeps him at his master's heels, don't take him for a simple lackey. Quick-witted, agile, and cautious, Riley is the street-smart Victorian urchin with a heart of gold who you'll find yourself rooting for immediately. Joining him on his journey toward freedom and self-discovery is Chevron "Chevie" Savano, an equally street-wise gal from this century who is eager to prove herself. Don't let her looks or stature fool you, Chevie is a fighter and will stop at nothing to protect the victimized or capture the crooks, even if it doesn't always mean playing by the rules.
But by far the most compelling character in this book was the villain, Garrick. Honestly, if he weren't completely evil—that is if he wasn't power-hungry and enjoy killing people—then I wouldn't mind having him for a friend. He's smart, witty, jovial at times, and apart from the whole killing thing, seems genuinely fun to be around. And his backstory only makes you want to like (or at least sympathize with)him more. I guess in a way I can now understand how people might be attracted to Dexter or Hannibal. Even if you abhor their methods, you can still sorta kinda root for them.
And true to form, these characters shape every aspect of the story. Every action they make is based upon their own history, morals, reactions. There is never an out-of-character moment, or one where you're screaming at the characters to stop acting stupid (unless they're actually being stupid) because you can't believe they would do something like that. You believe everything they do, everything they say, because they never contradict themselves. They never act uncharacteristically stupid, romantic, brash, or anything. They don't feel like puppets of the author or the plot, but rather like they're the ones telling their stories.
Did I mention how much I love Colfer's plots? It never ceases to amaze me how much the characters drive his stories. No natural disasters, no random catastrophes, everything that happens in this book is because someone decided it would happen. Okay, maybe except the time-travel thing with Garrick. But all the puzzles, the tricks, the games, the chases, they're all put in motion by characters. There are no coincidences, or at least none that aren't justified by motivations or science. It's a regular Good vs Bad, Sherlock vs Moriarty -style showdown. And figuring out just how everything pieces together, learning that it does all piece together, was my favorite part.
In terms of being a SciFi story, time travel does play a significant role in the plot. But in terms of explanation and paradoxes and such, it's actually quite minor. Mostly it sets up the backstory, begins the chase, and then is used as a means of escape a couple times. As far as techno-babble goes, there is really very little to worry about. And the same goes for historical terms as well. Though maybe half the book takes place in 1898, there's not much one has to know beforehand. Just know that telephones didn't exist back then, and you should be fine.
As a series start, I'm very curious as to what future books have in store. The ending wraps up fairly neatly, with all the mysteries and puzzles solved, all the backstories revealed, and goals still ahead for our heroes. But then the last couple pages happen. I thought perhaps we'd be following the W.A.R.P. team on new time-traveling adventures, but now I don't know what to think. Still, I suppose it works as a stand-alone in terms of character journeys, but for anyone as gripped as I was with the ending, we'll definitely be coming back for more.
Overall, I was happy to read The Reluctant Assassin for its intriguing characters and finely woven plot. I'd recommend it for SciFi or time-travel buffs or anyone who likes character-focused YA adventure stories. Absolutely no language or sex to speak of, and non-gorey or off-screen depictions of violence lead me to suggest this for middle-grade and up. Whether you're already a Colfer fan, or just looking for the next great book/series to start, you shouldn't hesitate to pick up The Reluctant Assassin for yourself.
Approximate Reading Time: 4.5 hours
Performed by Maxwell Caulfield
Length: 9.4 Hours
Listened at 2.2x Speed
Length: 9.4 Hours
Listened at 2.2x Speed
Quite possibly the most difficult audiobook I've ever tried following. Not due to any fault of the reader nor a low quality of production, but because it simply wasn't the same version of the book. As far as I can figure, the audiobook was produced from the UK edition, while I was reading a slightly-altered American edition. That is the only way I can explain such a large number of switched words. Mind you, normally I wouldn't mind a few variances, but when they come at such a high rate, I had to bring it up.
With that said, I don't think the usual audiobook crowd would find any fault with the recording. As the book takes place solely in London, and with Caulfield's English accent, all of the colloquialisms ("lift" for "elevator", "trousers" for "pants") fit naturally with the story. It may be an inconvenience to those completely unfamiliar with English (vs American) vernacular, but a little Googling should solve any confusion there.
But besides Caulfield's normal narration, I thought he did a stellar job with giving life to a wide variety of characters. Though I'll admit his females were a tad lacking and Riley wasn't quite as youthful, he still managed a convincing American accent for Chevie and provided a huge amount of distinction for many, many male characters. And even sped up, his voice was still completely clear and understandable, not always so when dealing with native English readers.
Overall, while it was difficult for me to follow at times, I would still recommend this audiobook for experienced or first-time listeners. Keep in mind that there are a few colloquialisms you might need to brush up on, but nothing too confusing for younger readers. An enjoyable experience on the whole.