Friday, 9 September 2011

Review: Day of the Assassins - Johnny O'Brien

Extent: 224 pages
Publisher: Templar
Pub Date: 1st February 2010

Jack Christie and his best friend, Angus, find themselves at the center of a momentous event that will shape history for decades to come. Their dilemma: Should they intervene? Their problem: Can they survive? Join Jack on a dangerous chase from the dockyards of England to the rain-sodden trenches of the First World War. Will he escape the evil authorities who believe in the mysterious VIGIL Imperative?

I’m going to come straight out with it an say that my history knowledge is embarrassingly bad. When I was a school, history was the lesson for catching up on sleep, exploring the artistic merit of the doodle and praying something exciting would go past the window. Needless to say I dropped the subject as soon as I could but when you’re a kid you’re looking toward the future, it’s hard to get excited about what happened hundreds of years ago.

That’s why I was so pleased when I read Day of the Assassins. Yes, it’s a time travel adventure story but it’s one that really focuses on the history, bringing the world to life just as it was on the eve of World War I. This is just the kind of book I missed out on as a kid, the kind that would have had me glued to my chair in my history lessons because I’d actually been there with Jack Christie and experienced it all. I knew absolutely nothing about WWI before I read this book, the reason why it started has always been a head scratcher for me because Europe looked very different back then. By the time I’d reached the last page, however, I was an expert on the subject and the ingenious part of it is that I didn’t feel like I was learning anything while I read. I thought I had been on a brilliant adventure but actually I’d had a crucial lesson that I’d missed out on as a kid and more importantly, the excitement of history for me has increased hugely. Johnny O’Brien has taken the dull lesson and transformed it into hours of excitement, making it utterly relevant to modern kids who are more used to films and computer games than sitting with a book and learning.

Overall, the story is well forged and the characters convincing, although I think it’s probably suited a bit better to boys – and I don’t mean for that to sound derogatory but it is very action-centric. Again, I don’t mean for that to make it sound like it’s devoid of emotion because it’s anything but. Jack has to face some pretty horrendous moral dilemmas that I struggle to solve even now, having thought about it for a long time. Do you stop the event that caused the First World War and save millions of lives but in so doing completely change the future? Or do you sit back and let it happen, knowing full well the suffering that your inaction will inflict on countless people? It’s pretty heavy stuff that really adds so depth to the story. The great thing is that Johnny O’Brien gives the reader enough background information about the First World War as the adventure unfolds that you can make up your own mind about whether stopping the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand would have changed much. It seems there was so much tension in Europe at the time that if it hadn’t been that that sparked the war something else would have. There is that great sense of powerlessness for Jack Christie that makes him even more believable and even more admirable for doing the right thing.

Definitely one for the adventure lovers and one for those of you who didn’t pay attention in history!

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