ARC review – ‘Timekeeper’ by Tara Sim

Title: Timekeeper
Authors: Tara Sim
Genre: LGBT/Fantasy/YA/
Date of Publication: 8th November, 2016
Page Count: 368 pages (hardcover)
Synopsis: (from Goodreads)

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Two o’clock was missing.

In an alternate Victorian world controlled by clock towers, a damaged clock can fracture time—and a destroyed one can stop it completely.

It’s a truth that seventeen-year-old clock mechanic Danny Hart knows all too well; his father has been trapped in a Stopped town east of London for three years. Though Danny is a prodigy who can repair not only clockwork, but the very fabric of time, his fixation with staging a rescue is quickly becoming a concern to his superiors.

And so they assign him to Enfield, a town where the tower seems to be forever plagued with problems. Danny’s new apprentice both annoys and intrigues him, and though the boy is eager to work, he maintains a secretive distance. Danny soon discovers why: he is the tower’s clock spirit, a mythical being that oversees Enfield’s time. Though the boys are drawn together by their loneliness, Danny knows falling in love with a clock spirit is forbidden, and means risking everything he’s fought to achieve.

But when a series of bombings at nearby towers threaten to Stop more cities, Danny must race to prevent Enfield from becoming the next target or he’ll not only lose his father, but the boy he loves, forever.

As soon as I heard this was a fantasy YA novel featuring a gay main character, I was hooked and immediately requested it from NetGalley – I was so thrilled to be approved and dove in gleefully. How satisfying that that it lived up to my high expectations! ❤

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What I particularly enjoyed was how this wasn’t a ‘coming out’ story. Danny, our protagonist, had known since he was 11 that he preferred boys over girls, and he’d already done the hard yards with disclosing this fact to those around him and dealing with any resulting fallout. While there is an important place in literature for LGBT stories that deal with characters coming to realize their sexuality differs from the norm and how they process that, I haven’t come across many novels in the YA genre where a queer main character doesn’t have to angst about it and whether they should come out or not.

It’s basically become the default plot device that realizing one is gay HAS to result in a great deal of panicked soul-searching and heartache, which may be true for some people, but certainly not all and it’s more helpful to have a wider representation of reality and the variety of human experiences. So in that light, it’s quite refreshing to have Danny’s sexuality already established and out of the way so we can get on with the story, just as one would in any other book with a heterosexual lead!

While the story is set in a universe where being gay isn’t a crime and is widely tolerated (even if not quite seen as equal), there is still a forbidden love aspect involved as relationships between humans and clock spirits are not permitted. Normally I get impatient with teenage characters who risk everything for the sake of a foolish infatuation (don’t jeopardize your reputation or family or your LIFE over a boy you barely know, for goodness sake!), but in this case, it isn’t youthful defiance at work since Danny is initially under the mistaken impression that Colton is an apprentice. Later on, once the truth is revealed, it’s too late for him to withdraw after they’ve bonded and developed a mutual affection for one another.

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Danny has such a finely developed sense of responsibility that he tries to do the right thing and stay away, even as circumstances conspire to keep him in Colton’s orbit, but while it ultimately fails, I appreciate that he makes the effort and doesn’t lie to himself about the risks they’re taking by continuing to interact. Maybe I’m just a grouchy adult now that I’m in my late 20s, but I can’t root for recklessly self-centered teens and their hormonally-charged romances, there needs to be something deeper there for me to connect to and I love that Danny is painfully self-aware and attempting to do what’s best for everyone, even in a trying, impossible situation. He has his flaws – he’s socially awkward, brusque, a little too headstrong and prone to act rashly, but his heart is in the right place and he’s so very easy to get invested in.

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The romantic story-line in Timekeeper is very gentle and heartwarming, more in keeping with a fairytale romance as it’s quite innocent and effervescent. Those hoping for some heated lustful scenes will be left wanting more, but I was absolutely entranced by the lovely lyrical way in which Danny and Colton’s relationship unfolded. There is a wonderful contrast between world-weary Danny gradually letting go of his guilt and anxiety as he becomes more secure in the freedom, understanding and lack of judgment that Colton offers, and the way in which the centuries-old yet naive clock spirit learns more about the outside world through Danny and earns a reprieve from his solitary lifestyle in the tower as he gains a connection to all the experiences he’d been missing out on his entire existence.

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Aside from the main duo, Timekeeper is populated by a wealth of interesting and well-fleshed-out characters. There’s Danny’s apathetic mother who distanced herself from him after losing his father; Cassie, his best friend, who is a bright spot of cheer and staunch support throughout; plus Daphne and Lucas, his peers and fiercest competition for jobs from the Lead Mechanic, among others. I’ve sometimes found that when the romance is particularly strong, the platonic relationships with other characters may suffer, but that wasn’t at all the case here. Cassie in particular was an MVP, I loved her friendship with Danny! And for a character that was absent from the start, it was astonishing how strongly Danny’s father made his presence felt – my heart ached for Danny as he struggled to cope with the grief of losing him and the crushing burden of feeling that it was his fault.

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I also cannot praise the plot enough – the central conflict throughout the novel was between the mechanics and someone hellbent on sabotaging and destroying the towers they maintained in order to protect the flow of Time. I became utterly invested in Danny’s investigation into the mystery saboteur and my pulse raced at the mad lengths they went to in order to thwart the mechanics. There were some heart-stopping moments as the attacks increased in intensity, I could’ve torn my hair out with the frantic tension and drama! All due praise to Tara Sim for concocting a genius motivation for the culprit that made perfect sense, instead of the generic ‘I just want to watch the world burn‘ villain stereotype.

Until I came to write up this review, I didn’t actually realize that Timekeeper was the first part of a series. I’m relieved that it didn’t follow the trend of ending on a cliffhanger or leaving some plot point frustratingly unresolved for the future, instead we’re treated to a self-contained plot and a satisfying resolution. But I’m more than happy to return to this world and see what’s next for Danny, Colton and co. ❤ These characters have won my heart and the prospect of a sequel is exciting!

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This is a fantastic debut by Tara Sim, I’m completely enchanted by the combination of amazing characters and smart storytelling displayed here. My emotions swung from giddiness at the sweet romance between the boys to sympathy and sorrow at Danny’s loss and ongoing strife at home to gasping out loud at the bold developments with the antagonist. I enjoyed reading this so much and I can’t wait for more! 😀

Personal Rating: 5 out of 5 kitties approve this book!

4cats

Disclaimer: I received a digital ARC free from Skyhorse Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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