Published by Orion Children's Books on Sept 21st, 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Sci-fi
Time flies when you're plundering history.
Farway Gaius McCarthy was born outside of time. The son of a time-traveling Recorder from 2354 AD and a gladiator living in Rome in 95 AD, Far's birth defies the laws of nature. Exploring history himself is all he's ever wanted, and after failing his final time-traveling exam, Far takes a position commanding a ship with a crew of his friends as part of a black market operation to steal valuables from the past.
But during a heist on the sinking Titanic, Far meets a mysterious girl who always seems to be one step ahead of him. Armed with knowledge that will bring Far's very existence into question, she will lead Far and his team on a race through time to discover a frightening truth: History is not as steady as it seems.
In this heart-stopping adventure, Ryan Graudin has created a fast-paced world that defies time and space.
I’ve only read one other book by Ryan Graudin so far, and I experienced similar issues with Invictus as I did with The Walled City. I haven’t yet read Wolf by Wolf, which is supposed to be amazing, but so far, Ryan Graudin has not made into onto my auto-buy list. I was cautious going into this, as time travel is difficult to impress me with. There’s always a flaw in the logic but this was not what fell flat for me in this book.
Invictus is based on an interesting concept and Graudin knows how to infuse her stories with scraps of knowledge, like ancient treasures long forgotten and slivers of foreign languages. Her characters, albeit not generic, have little life to them, and this makes it very hard to connect with the story on an emotional level. It is this, far more than the sci-fi element I had difficulty wrapping my head around, that makes Invictus forgettable for me.
“Did you know there’s a German curse that literally translates as ‘heaven thunder weather’? Himmeldonnerwetter?”
“Germans have the best words.”
Invictus plays with an intriguing concept: Time travelling, and more specifically, a boy born mid-time jump and therefore between two times and in no time at all. You can tell that Graudin put a lot of thought into her world and her characters. Sadly, the former performed better than the latter. Though confusing at first, Graudin’s futuristic sci-fi setting is navigable – one of the important things to get a reader grounded in a story. I experience more difficulty getting into sci-fi than fantasy, and I don’t think it’s because sci-fi often involved numbers (and I’m not very good with those). She also made use of the multiverse theory to give her story as certain edge but I’m not sure it worked as well as it did in Gemina (Illuminae Files #2). I feel like Graudin could have set the scene more. What some books have in abundance, Invictus was missing: Vivid descriptions of the setting. Though descriptions were existent, they were hasty, as though the person writing them had been keen on moving on to other things. Graudin focused more on introspection, dialogue, and atmosphere, but not specifically on painting a scene ripe for the inner eye to conjure based on the words. Having her characters dabble in antiques black market trading gave the story an interesting touch, and it allowed for Graudin to dig up random facts, historical artefacts, and forgotten treasures, which you can tell is a passion of hers.
The plot kept a steady upward pacing, satisfactory for Invictus, and it was interesting enough to read, but not so much to remember. Invictus has the classic quality of any sci-fi: World threatened, crew of misfits bound to save it. This time around, the threat to the world is time itself – or rather, its vanishing. Obviously, this raised the stakes, but I also have to say that it wasn’t necessarily anything new to the genre. Though Invictus does entail romance, it is a mere spectator at the sidelines. At first, I thought there was going to be a love triangle, but despair not, my friends, for it was a false alarm. Though I think romance should never overpower the plot, I do enjoy a good romance in fantasy or science fiction. But as with The Walled City, Graudin’s romance(s) was void of chemistry. This might also be why I felt like the characters lacked life. If I cannot get a feeling of a character when they’re in love, how and when would I otherwise? The cast of characters was diverse and these protagonists had so much potential, and yet I felt it… somewhat wasted. Usually, the characters are what get me invested in a story – their joy and their pain and what’s at stake for them to lose. Alas, these characters did not make me feel a whole lot. The individual storylines as well as the romantic relationships didn’t capture me, and I think this might’ve been the biggest flaw of the book for me. I liked the characters but there was not enough intensity, emotion, that spark of life I love in fictional people.
With its combination of time travel, antiques black market trading, and multiverse world-building, Invictus should have been mind-blowing. It does offer an entertaining story but, unfortunately, I wasn’t invested. Still, I cannot say Invictus was a bad book, not at all. It is a solid piece of YA sci-fi literature – and a standalone, at that – but simply forgettable.
**I received an ARC of this from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thoughts are my own. Quotations may be subject to change in the final copy.**