Invictus is as glorious as it is shiny. Time travel novels always have the potential to fail because they are too confusing, and I’m not going to say that Graudin avoids this entirely; she does not. However, she succeeds on a higher level: her story, as well as being a hell of a lot of fun
has really excellent Indian rep possibly the best I’ve ever seen or at the very least the one I most related too in YA and yes I have read When Dimple Met Rishi but more on that later juggles the anxiety and joy that even the mere concept of time travel, let alone it’s all-pervading role in a story, can evoke.
Time flies when you’re plundering history.
Farway Gaius McCarthy was born outside of time. The son of a time-traveling Recorder from 2354 AD and a gladiator living in Rome in 95 AD, Far’s birth defies the laws of nature. Exploring history himself is all he’s ever wanted, and after failing his final time-traveling exam, Far takes a position commanding a ship with a crew of his friends as part of a black market operation to steal valuables from the past.
But during a heist on the sinking Titanic, Far meets a mysterious girl who always seems to be one step ahead of him. Armed with knowledge that will bring Far’s very existence into question, she will lead Far and his team on a race through time to discover a frightening truth: History is not as steady as it seems. [from goodreads]
But let’s talk about the Indian rep first, because I just need to say it. Almost all the representation of Indian characters which I’ve read in YA books involves them struggling with their culture, trying to reconcile it with the values of modern America. (those that don’t, say 5 to 1 or The Star Touched Queen, involve character who are immersed in their own fairly homogenous culture, which is not at all the India and Indians I know; or else involve side characters who still belong to immigrant stereotypes, working hard to please their parents or being stereotypically rebellious to go against their parents). That is not the case with Priya. For one thing, she’s from Central, aka future Rome. Her culture is part of who she is: she does respect her parents, for instance, and she does love chai (let’s say it together, guys: anything that comes from syrup or ends in ‘latte’ or ‘tea’ IS NOT CHAI) but she’s not wrestling with her place in the world. She holds her Indian identity with many others: there is no wrestle for her. Of course, I, as a somewhat Indian in a globalized world, do wrestle with my identity, but it is not all consuming or full time or (largely) anxiety inducing, and I felt like that was FINALLY reflected in the character of Priya.
Right, well now all that’s off my chest, all of the other characters in the novel are brilliant too. Farway is a bit of a Kaz: rakish, charming, driven, but also loyal and courageous and committed beneath all that. Much as he was the focal character, I actually liked Eliot better, with her fear and secrets and gradually blooming tenderness. Gram was more stereotypical, though given depth, liking the preciseness of numbers and reconciling the with the chaos of
Imogen life. Finally, there is Imogen, my absolute favourite, and quite a bit like me (for the record, my hair is currently semi-blue, with pink and purple on the horizon). I loved that she was silly and that she stood up to people and was also full of nonsense like revusing to confront her feelings for Gram. I’ve never had gelato gelato (amendment: 3 hours after writing this review, I am no longer a gelato virgin), but from what I hear, it’s a lot like ice cream, and I’m a big advocate of that also. So Imogen, in short, is the best.
The amazing thing about time travel is that it offers the potential to change the past. That is wonderful, because the past is full of (literal) treasures (also disease, brutality, misogyny, homophobia, sexism). That is also terrifying, because to change the past is to change the present (probably), and any other world that could stem from your choices is possible. Graudin negotiates both of these. She delights in the glories of Vegas, pre big drought; the decadence of Rome; the historical foresight of Alexandria. Her characters explore these places, and seek an understanding of the humans who live there. Neither Graudin or her characters judge; there is only one world, only one way to get to where they are now, and they mush tread delicately for fear of destroying it. Or is there only one world, one time stream? I knew that Eliot had secrets, but I did not expect the way that Graudin dealt with them. It’s elegant and mindbending and works perfectly. I still say that I was confused by the ending, the joy and the fade of it (basically I don’t understand how the second crew appeared but the epilogue ties things together nicely, and more importantly, hopefully.
Invictus is everything the cover promises: secrets, solutions and characters like strands of gold in a plot that is thick and drifting, like mist.
Have you read this book? and if you could time travel, where would you travel to? tell me in the comments!