A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Shows the seedy side of Victorian London, including slums like Old Nichol, with mentions of Bedlam, the notorious insane asylum, and the even more notorious Jack the Ripper. Plus mentions of H. G. Wells' The Time Machine and the theory of wormholes and other complicated concepts of time travel. Some talk of the best interrogation techniques learned in the FBI.
The struggle of good vs. evil is the obvious one, since teens are pitted against a murderer they keep calling "the devil." What makes a person into a murderer? Riley may have been raised by "the devil," but his moral compass is still intact. There's also a question of what gives someone a sense of identity and purpose, especially someone growing up without a family.
Positive Role Models
Both teens, Chevie and Riley, are orphans who come from adversity and both stick to their principles and use their smarts to stay ahead of Garrick. Even though Riley is raised by a killer, he still sees killing as wrong. It's worth noting that Chevie is a Native American teen in a genre that has too few minority girls (or girls in general) to begin with.
Violence & Scariness
The villain is an assassin for hire and for himself, so there are lots of killings and mentions of past hits, mostly with knives, with talk of pooling blood, a woman chopped in half, and other gory details. A cannon kills, gunshots wound and kill; there's a poisoning, a kidnapping, an arena fist fight with teeth knocked out, and a forced tattoo. Riley dwells on the murder of his parents when he was 3, and Chevie recalls the death of both her parents, one from a bear and the other in a motorcycle accident. Time travel can cause some gruesome mutations and leads one traveler to shoot himself because of it. Descriptions of a Victorian London slum show a world of despair and death -- Garrick recalls most of his family dying of cholera when he was young and his father returning to drink himself to death.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A couple of pecks on the cheek.
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Very mild: "hell" and "damn." "Wench" used in Victorian London. Chevie also must put up with being called "Injun princess" in that time period.
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Products & Purchases
Quick mentions of things like Apple, McDonald's, Pink Floyd, and more.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Victorian teen boys drink at breakfast (Chevie doesn't approve). Mentions of Chevie's dad drinking to excess and Garrick's father going to the slum to drink himself to death. Slum residents roll up wallpaper to smoke the glue that's attached.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Reluctant Assassin is the start of a series from the author of the bestselling Artemis Fowl series, so many kids will want to read it. The publishers recommend this exhilarating time travel read for ages 12 and up, but it seems a better fit for teens who've already digested many high-action, high-violence PG-13 movies. The villain isn't the reluctant assassin -- he's very willing to kill and does it often, both for hire and for himself, with some gory detail. His assistant, 14-year-old Riley, is the reluctant one. Riley and Native American Chevie (hooray for girls in sci-fi!) face nonstop danger, including kidnapping, fighting for their lives in an arena, poisoning, and more. There's lots of talk of how they were orphaned and a view of a London slum with despair and death all around. Both Riley and Chevie are resilient characters who use serious smarts to stay ahead of the killer on their tail.
Is It Any Good?
What an exhilarating series start! It really is impossible to put THE RELUCTANT ASSASSIN down. (And when you read the vivid descriptions of Victorian slums you'll be too queasy for meals anyway, so it's not a problem.) The teen characters are fantastic -- Chevie especially, with all the cheek she gives her superiors and her raw FBI rookie talent.
The anything-but-reluctant assassin Garrick is pure villain, but he's not at all two-dimensional; it's particularly gripping when Colfer switches to his warped point of view. And all the dangers Chevie and Riley race into slyly peel away another layer of mystery and intrigue; it's brilliantly meticulous storytelling at high speed. Sci-fi fans ages 13 to 113, don't miss this one.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.