Step into my time machine: a review of W.A.R.P. Book 1: The Reluctant Assassin

As he bowed, a drop of someone else’s blood fell from his nose, landing on Chevie’s forehead, and she was struck to her core with a terror that she could barely contain.

W.A.R.P. Book 1Time travel is cool, but it’s even better when you don’t have to worry about pesky anachronisms.

Maybe I watched too many episodes of X-Men as a kid, but I’ve always hated time-travel plotlines. Every time a character thought it was a good idea to visit the past or the future and change something, I groaned. It never worked out well for anyone, and they messed up more than they fixed.

Now, if I could zip back in time, I would tell myself a lot of things. Much of my advice to my younger self would consist of “this isn’t as important as you think it is,” “stay in touch with that person,” and “just try it” — but if I returned to my freshman year of high school and happened upon the very month that I was reading Artemis Fowl, I would casually mention that maybe I should give Eoin Colfer more of a chance because hey, this one book he’s going to write is pretty grand.

Yep. I borrowed Artemis Fowl from the library years ago, and I didn’t like it. Maybe the first book was just lousy or something, but I feel like I should have spent more time exploring author Eoin Colfer’s works. His latest, The Reluctant Assassin — the first entry in his new W.A.R.P. series — is well written and thoroughly enjoyable.

W.A.R.P. stands for Witness Anonymous Relocation Program, which is a nifty way both to refer to the story’s central theme of time-traveling and explain the reason for it: W.A.R.P. agents protect important witnesses by sending them to the past, but some agents want to use the technology for black ops and eliminate terrorists and other unwanted figures before they can do real damage later on.

Chevron “Chevie” Savano is a teenager, but she’s already a kick-butt FBI agent who attended high school undercover before the whole mission to spy on her fellow students went kablooey. Now she’s in London, biding her time until she can grow up and be an FBI agent for realz.

She gets her chance one day, when the weird hunk of junk she’s monitoring for any long-awaited trickle of activity stirs to life and ejects a man and some boy named Riley. From the past. It’s called a W.A.R.P. pod, and it’s a time machine — one of many. All fell out of use when their inventor disappeared into the past because certain conspiring agents wanted to use them for the aforementioned sneaky time travel stuff. He took all the Timekeys used to activate the machines with him.

The man who emerges from the pod doesn’t survive — too many nasty mutations and wounds — but the boy does, and his appearance creates trouble for Chevie and ultimately forces them to flee into the past. They become an unlikely duo — he an apprentice to a crazy murdering psycho illusionist, and she a spunky FBI agent who doesn’t exactly fit in well with Victorian times. While she catches him up on modern conveniences like cars and the adventures of Harry Potter in the present, he shows her around London circa 1898.

There they must shake the trail of Riley’s master, Garrick, who absorbed the knowledge and attributes of a modern man when he came through the time machine after Riley. So now he’s a deadly assassin who not only knows how to perform illusions and stage tricks but can understand modern science and technology and happens to bring a laser-sighted gun with him. Dandy.

Colfer actually gives Garrick an impressive amount of depth. The magician has this weird obsession with family, and he considers Riley a son. He’s bent on making him a killer like he is. He also craves real magic, like the power of the Timekey that moved him through time. The other characters are equally memorable. Riley is probably my favorite — his old-timey lexicon makes him entertaining to both adults and kids.

The pacing is excellent as well. Colfer dedicates fair shares of the writing to each character, and he’s adept at facilitating emotional investment between reader and character. When I came across a new one, I connected almost immediately.

What I also love is how the story doesn’t tread all over the idea of dangerous anachromisms: that going to the past is a sure way to mess everything up. The book just kind of goes with it, and while the characters definitely don’t want Garrick to use what he knows of present-day London to rise in society, these hiccups work themselves out through their presence and actions. Even another time-hopper, who we meet later in the book and has for years exploited his knowledge of the future for personal gain, gets what’s coming to him. He kind of interferes with history big time, but not for good.

Lesson learned? Time travel is generally bad to abuse, but at least you can have fun without worrying about majorly screwing up the timeline. I look forward to the next adventure. Maybe I’ll get to read more about the terrible mutations that time-traveling can cause? (I want there to be a live person with a dinosaur head, dammit.)

Grade: A

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