Reviews /

The Past Master

Authored by Patience Agbabi
Published by Canongate Books

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Elle is able to move easily throughout time, but can she stop the evil Millennia from destroying the Millenium by bending the past and the future, and becoming all-powerful? Only time will tell! With themes of friendship, hope, teamwork and family, this story hops around time throughout.

Elle and her group of friends (called the Infinites) are enjoying learning about their own particular skills and the complex nature of time itself, from their teacher, Mrs C Echler, and through their own practical experiences. Meanwhile, they save the future by trying to stop Millennia (the antagonist) from enacting her plan to get herself born on the day of the Millenium, which will increase her powers. But this is not her ultimate plan; only time, investigation, and research will reveal this as the plot thickens. So, the Infinites head off on their school’s work experience week. Luckily, Elle is going to work at the time library, where the banned books are, and these might give her a clue as to what might happen.

As the fourth book in the series, the characters are well established already and continue through this story. As someone personally new to the series, I found this very confusing and I kept hoping that the characters and key vocabulary would be introduced and explained, but it never was. Additionally, the first chapters are heavily dialogue orientated, so they offer little to new readers of the series no matter how much you try to infer and retrieve. The characters are given ‘cool’ names, such as MC²; have clear, simple characterisation, such as Big Ben liking fast cars; involve a range of neurodivergences, such as deafness and Autism; and they use very modern slang and contexts which would appeal to young people. These characters would help young people similar to them to identify with their thoughts, feelings and impulses. The main character is neurodivergent; however, this only gets a few cursory mentions and isn’t a strong theme throughout the story, which is a shame.

Time travel is always an engaging topic for a story, but I did find the plot for this adventure thin, slow and confusing. There is so much jumping around, that I got lost. The antagonist is supposed to be trying to move their own birth day to the Millenium, but there seems to be no real threat or fear created, or I, as the reader, didn’t feel it.

Having said that, I did really enjoy the main character, her thoughts, worries and passions really resonate. I especially enjoyed her journey to the library, where the adventure seems to leap forward and become exciting, before being slowed to a standstill again. Additionally, the relationship between the friends is very strong and a good model for children to read about.
I think this book would be best placed in a school library for ages 10+ who are keen readers of the series already. These children would definitely want to get their hands on this book!