A captivating sci-fi story that combines imaginative ideas with some important themes. While aimed at teens, this will be enjoyed by younger and older readers alike.
Hugo is an android. He spends his days alone making and mending watches. He thinks he’s happy. He knows he’s lucky. His job means he’s able to afford his dusty attic room on the edge of an elite academy that’s attended by the sons and daughters of the richest families from across the galaxy. However, Hugo’s life is turned upside down when pompous student, Dorian, turns up at his door. Dorian is only interested in getting his watch fixed before his ‘Time Travel for Beginners’ exam the next day. This changes when Hugo announces the watch has been deliberately sabotaged. Together they discover that highly explosive quantum energy has been stolen from just about everyone’s watch. Suddenly our unlikely pair are on a quest to find out the truth before someone – or everyone – in the academy is hurt.
This is a short book (just 119 pages of well-spaced text) but it’s certainly a captivating story. While the characterisation is strong and the plot has enough twists and turns to keep you reading, it’s the setting that makes this story so special. I simply loved the sci-fi concept of this alien academy while the details are truly wonderful. This includes Hugo himself (especially the tattoos on his metal arms that blossom into flower) and our full cast of characters. Can you name another book where one of the main characters will one day grow up to become an actual planet on which other people will live? Or where you can read about a large elegant butterfly riding a penny farthing bicycle whilst wearing a green hat?
The book is being marketed as a teen story and the ages of the characters have been chosen with this in mind (although age is a difficult construct when it comes to the androids and, indeed, some of the stranger alien creatures). However, the simplicity of the language (the book is part of the Barrington Stoke series with a reading age of 8+) and the adventure / mystery style plot make it equally suitable for middle-grade readers. I suspect it will also appeal to adults who are fans of Star Trek or Star Wars.
While much of the book is almost imaginative overload, there are a number of important underlying themes. For example, Hugo and Dorian slowly forge a strong and lasting friendship while the other students and staff come to reconsider their attitudes to the unwanted androids. To realise that newer is not always better!
If you enjoyed this, you might want to join me in trying one of Lauren James’ other books such as the Carnegie-nominated The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, or The Quiet at the End of the World.
Publication Date: July 2019
Publisher: Barrington Stoke
Author’s website: Lauren James