A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What 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.
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What's the story?
Seventeen-year-old Chevie feels stranded in London on a dull FBI assignment after the government shuts down a young trainee program in the States. She's supposed to monitor a strange pod while the scientist in charge sleeps -- a scientist who's just been staring at it for 30 years. But, just Chevie's luck, the thing fires up on her watch, and a dead man and a teen boy with a knife materialize before her. A heavily armed FBI clean-up crew arrives, locks up the boy, and packs into the pod. The head scientist hastily gives Chevie instructions and a Timekey in case they don't return. Chevie is still scratching her head in utter confusion as the team disappears -- for good. Arriving in their place? A crazed assassin named Garrick who's looking for his reluctant apprentice, Riley. As Chevie escapes into the city with Riley, they're shocked that Garrick is barely a step behind them. How does he know all the FBI passcodes and the location of the most secure safehouse in London? Something must have happened to the Victorian killer in the wormhole. Something that has made him virtually unstoppable.
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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what drew them to this sci-fi story. Were you a fan of the author's Artemis Fowl series? Do you like stories about time travel?
What did you learn about Victorian London? What else can you find out about the Old Nichol slum (this isn't the first novel to mention it) and Bedlam? Are they still there? Why was it called the Victorian age? When did it end?
Would you go back in time if you could? Why or why not? If you could bring one modern advance back with you, what would it be?
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