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REVIEW: The Boy Who Stole Time by Mark Bowsher (Unbound, 2018)


Like all the best fantasy novels, the premise of Mark Bowsher’s The Boy Who Stole Time taps into a primal desire. What if we could give ourselves more time? We’ve all felt we’ve wanted just another half hour in bed, another day to get that assignment finished, another week on holiday… But Bowsher doesn’t end his premise there. Cards on the table: I lost my Mum last year. Unlike Krish, the hero of the book, I'm not 12. I’m a multiple of that. But for a while last summer, while Mum was lying in her hospital bed, I too wanted to give her more time…

Bowsher’s dexterousness as a writer means that the opening sections of the novel, set in the world we know, are as believable and affecting as the subsequent story is vividly fantastic. The contemporary family at the heart of the story, and especially our hero, are both realistic and unlike any family you've encountered in a YA novel. Krish isn’t a bookish loner, the brilliant child unrecognised by more ordinary peers. Instead, he's the steadfast kid who takes the path of least resistance. He isn't troubling anyone, but neither is he lighting up the sky. He lacks imagination, but for this one thing: his mother needs more time, and so, when he meets a dishevelled demon who gives him access to another world (the magical realm of Ilir), he goes in search of Myrthali, a magical substance that can give those who touch it all the time they need...

Krish’s encounters with the people of Ilir (the tyrannical narcissus King Obsendei, who reminded me of someone orange, the beautiful sorceress Eshter, the renegade would-be wizard Balthrir) highlight a growing understanding of his place in the real world. This, naturally, is a coming of age tale, but one with a very particular point to make. There’s a profound question being asked about whether we deserve all we wish for, about how selfish that can be, even when it seems to be a wish on someone else's behalf. But the exploration is wrapped up in such an exciting quest story that it's never heavy going.

There’s a proper sense of peril here, too, not only in the high-stakes real-world scenario, but in the fantastic adventure story. And especially in the scenes with the terrifying, wolf-like Vulrein. There is also something satirical in the palace with walls and towers made up of pyramiding prisoners, and in the enforced celebration of an invisible wall which the King believes he has discovered… Again, like all great fantasy novels, you can take from this imagined world what you find in it.

The Boy Who Stole Time is subtitled Myrthali: Book I. Let’s hope Book II isn’t too long in the making…

More cards on the table: The Boy Who Stole Time is published by Unbound, who also published my debut novel The Continuity Girl. Though I’ve yet to meet Mark, I did support his book at the crowdfunding stage and chatted with him online. I am proud (if surprised!) to appear in the acknowledgements.

AUTHOR

Mark is a proudly dyspraxic writer and filmmaker who has made over 100 book promos for a certain publisher named Unbound. He wrote and directed his first full-length play, Not the Story of Me, at 20 and went on to make three shorts which won Best Short awards (plus one Best Screenplay award) at festivals in the UK and the US. The last of these, Only One Person Will Like This Film, was picked by the BFI as one of their '10 to try' out of over 300 films at LSFF 2013. He has written short fiction (The Pitch and I Killed Tristan Metcalf and Here's How I Did It... ) for Lionsgate's Fright Club ezine as well as articles for Den of Geek and Cult TV Times. Since going freelance in 2013 he has created video content for Santander, Pearson, Choice Support, The Big Issue and MyLex as well as music videos (all based on concepts he pitched to the artists) for Nisha Chand, Ekkoes, Good Work Watson, Morgan Crowley and Go-Zilla. He recently wrote and directed the pilot episode for a sitcom based on his previous career in film marketing entitled It's All Lies. He isn't married and doesn't live in Surrey but he did once climb a mountain dressed as Peter Pan.