Saturday, April 12, 2008

Maiya Williams

The Golden Hour
by Maiya Williams
Recommended Age: 12+

In this first novel by a television writer, producer, and sometime editor of the Harvard Lampoon, we meet two children who are still devastated by their mother’s death a year ago. Nina hasn’t spoken a word since that tragic day, and Rowan keeps a diary in which he lists the reasons his life stinks. Their father isn’t doing too well, either. As his Brooklyn bakery seems bound for bankruptcy, he sends his two children to stay with a pair of their mother’s eccentric aunts in a remote, coastal town in Maine where many homes don’t even have electricity, to say nothing of cable-TV and video games.

Just when you are expecting a story like The Canning Season, where hurting kids find healing amid folksy, rural surroundings, a bizarre time-travel adventure breaks out. Together with twins Xanthe and Xavier, descendants of Jamaican slaves, the siblings follow a trail of mystery to an abandoned resort where, at the “golden hour” of twilight and the “silver hour” of dawn every day, it becomes possible to travel to any point in world history. What makes it possible are ingenious devices called “alleviators,” and what they alleviate is your curiosity.

One of the things Rowan hates about his life is that he is too scared to use the alleviators. But his sister, suddenly talking again, decides to go back to a time when there was beauty and culture. When Rowan wakes up one morning and finds no Nina, he realizes that the worst has happened: Nina has gone back to the past, and may choose to stay there forever.

Did I say the worst? No, it gets even worse. For when he tells Xanthe and Xavier about this, they realize that Nina may have gone back to one of the most dangerous times and places in history: France on the eve of its revolution. Disguised as a nobleman, an artist, and a servant, the three kids plunge into history and begin searching for Nina. Instead, they find themselves caught between the intrigues of a villainous Duke, the amusements of a doomed king and queen, and the savagery of the revolution’s leaders.

Too soon, it seems that their only chance of saving Nina from being lost in history is to get themselves sentenced to the guillotine. Funnily enough, the experience does a lot to heal Rowan’s broken heart. Now, if only he can keep his head attached to his shoulders...

Here is a quirky, suspenseful adventure through the pages of history, with heroes who will touch your heart. I am looking forward to the sequel, titled The Hour of the Cobra.

The Hour of the Cobra
by Maiya Williams
Recommended Age: Age: 12+

In The Golden Hour, four children discovered a derelict seaside resort that, at the silver hour of dawn and the golden hour of dusk, becomes shiny and new and filled with holiday travelers. They traveled in an elevator that was really an alleviator, a time-travel device designed to alleviate curiosity about historical events. They landed in Paris on the eve of the French Revolution, and only by the most hair-raising adventure managed to escape with their heads. Not bad for a couple of butcher's kids from the Bronx and a pair of Jamaican-American twins.

Having come through their first historical entangelment unscathed, the kids are offered an unusual opportunity. The Council, by whose invitation alone time travel is possible, invites Rowan and Nina, Xanthe and Xavier to apply for "Frequent Flier" privileges. If they pass this next test, they may be allowed to make frequent visits to history, not only to observe, but also to bring back artifacts prized by collectors. If they fail...well, they may never make it back. Time travel is that risky. One can end up changing history and getting caught in an alternate branch of time. That's never a good idea.

For their examination, the children accompany Rowan and Nina's "Aunt" Agatha (actually their godmother) to ancient Egypt. Not ancient ancient Egypt, as such (with mummies and Pharaohs), but "modern" ancient Egypt, in the time of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar. The kids' mission is to save irreplaceable manuscripts from burning up with the Library of Alexandria... by stealing them a decade before the fire happened.

The children know very well what isn't supposed to happen. They aren't supposed to meet anyone famous. They aren't supposed to get involved with critical events in world history. But that is exactly what Xanthe does, driven into rebellion by frustrating sibling rivalry with her twin. She accidentally lets Cleopatra - the Cleopatra - see her materialize in the temple of the Egyptian goddess Isis. This sets in motion a chain of events that threatens the stability of history as we know it - and the existence of everyone she cares about. To make things right she has to accomplish something that has never been done before, and that may not even be theoretically possible... she has to change history back. She has to destroy one world to save another.

And for that she needs help. She needs the cleverness of her too-clever-by-half brother Xander. She needs a feat akin to mind-reading by young Nina. She needs a display of heroic courage by none other than pudgy, short-winded Rowan. She needs to outwit a spoiled prince and his wily adviser. She needs help from a world where she is supposed to be dead, and where her success will mean total annihilation. And she needs to forget about the fact that, even if she succeeds, the Council will know that she broke their most sacred rule and stomped on the pieces.

The outcome is obvious, considering that the series continues in The Hour of the Outlaw. But the path to that outcome is thrilling, funny, and emotionally rewarding. Don't miss this marvelous series!

EDIT: Check out Maiya Williams' website for more info.

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