I received a free copy of this book to read and judge as part of the 2022 BBNYA competition organised by TheWriteReads. All opinions are my own, unbiased and honest.
This year, the Book Bloggers’ Novel of the Year Award (BBNYA) is celebrating the 15 finalists with a blog tour for each title. The Time Trials came eighth in BBNYA 2022.
BBNYA is a yearly competition where book bloggers from all over the world read and score books written by indie authors, ending with 15 finalists and one overall winner.
‘Walkman-toting, guitar-playing Finn Mallory blames himself for his parents’ deaths and would do anything to turn back time and set things right.
‘So, when he’s recruited into a secret club at his new school that specializes in competitive time travel games, Finn sees a world of opportunity open before him.
‘The games, however, are far from benign.
‘Competition is cutthroat.
‘Scenarios are rigged.
‘And the mysterious timekeepers who organize it all have no qualms about using - or disposing of - players to suit their own sinister plans.
‘Now Finn must decide who he can trust while making peace with his past if he’s to have any hope of leading his team to victory and surviving his junior year.’
In The Time Trials, by Jon McConnell and Dayna McConnell, we follow recently-orphaned teenager Finn Mallory as he takes up his scholarship place at the prestigious Wharton Academy and, at the headmaster’s urging, joins its extra-curricular Young Historians Club.
However, he soon discovers the group isn’t as dry as it sounds. Guided by their wizened teacher, Professor Mordecai Moskowitz, Finn and his team-mates Everly Caldwell, Edison Pellegrin, and Valerie Konrad enter the Time Trials: an exclusive competition run by the secretive Historians’ Society, where delegates from four schools travel to different times and locations in the past to complete fiendish challenges.
The stakes are high; as well as having to beat the other teams and face gruelling debriefings from the tough Time Trials adjudicators, the students risk injury and death on their missions. On top of that, Finn is still processing his parents’ deaths, as well as the interpersonal dramas that characterise adolescence.
I really enjoyed The Time Trials. With its fast pace and immediacy, there’s no space for filler. Every page moves the story forward, whether we’re watching the characters undertake a nerve-wracking trial or interact with one another between challenges, or we’re learning important background information about them.
The time travel aspect is well thought-through, with the authors giving consideration to whether the characters’ actions when visiting the past will change subsequent events, and therefore the present (it won’t); the technology they’ll use to look and sound appropriate for the time and place they’re sent to; and what happens if their Time Bender needs repairs (they’ll receive help from their adorable robot assistant, SCRAP).
Not only do the characters interact directly with historical events and settings - including their socio-economic and gender dimensions - but they engage with history in other ways as well.
Right from the off, Prof Moskowitz is keen to impress upon his students that the practice of history is less about memorising what happened and when, and more about making connections between, and judgements about, causes and effects.
The professor marks Finn out as a potential team member because, as a student from a poor family who’s experienced tragedy, he’s likely to look at the trials from a different angle and think up fresh approaches to them, which could give him an edge over his privileged competitors.
As an erstwhile social historian, this made my heart sing: an important aspect of my definition of history is that it’s very much a living subject that evolves as we re-evaluate past events, situations, and actions from new perspectives, and consider the experiences of groups of people who haven’t traditionally been included in historical research.
Ironically, though, the main lesson Finn picks up over the course of the book is not to live in the past. He desperately misses his parents, wants to go back to how things were, and blames himself for their deaths because they were killed driving to a gig he begged to go to. He comes to realise, though, that he can only go forward.
A couple of other things I appreciated about this book were the way Finn, Everly, and Valerie made the effort to read up on, and accommodate Edison’s autism; and the cyberpunk, H. G. Wells vibe of the time-travelling equipment and the Historians’ Society Headquarters.
The Time Trials is a fast-paced, high-stakes time travel novel that really engages with history.