The Time Wreccas

(The Greenwich Chronicles) Val Tyler, Penguin

Warning: Contains spoilers

Wreccas are nasty little creatures who live underneath Blackheath and Greenwich Park. They all have names beginning with ‘S’ and they’re all the kind of names that make kiddies giggle – Snot. Snivel. Spew. They remind me of those other great childhood baddies, the Bottersnikes and their entire reason for existence is to spoil other people’s fun, especially the angelic Guardians who live above ground, guarding Time. Both races are invisible to humans and their battles are fought in the shadows of Greenwich Park unknown to the rest of us.

In a traditional battle between good and evil, the Wreccas steal the Tick that keeps Time going and it’s up to two kids, one Wrecca, one Guardian, to return the Park to normality. It’s a clever concept.

Once you get into it (and it took me a while – I read The Secret Agent in its entirety between chapters 3 and 4 of The Time Wreccas, though, that said, I am hardly the book’s intended audience) it’s a satisfyingly compelling read. At first I thought it might be one of those Christian allegory-type books, like The Chronicles of Narnia but now, having finished it, I think it is a classic quest-tale with a spot of redemption here and there along the way.

All the elements are there – adventure, peril, magic, guilt, penance – you’ve got the picture. But there is something slightly clunky here and there that grated on me as an adult reader who can hear the relentless bell of political correctness clanging round the offices at Penguin.

First, and most obvious of all, IMHO, was the careful doling out of male and female characters in equal roles of importance. To me, they’d thought “Hmm, we need to make sure that women are seen in equal status and that there are Positive Role Models for girls,” rather than “What sex would most suit this character and would best develop the plot?”

Novels need to be character-led, not dictated by What Should Be. In the best books equal roles (a good thing, BTW) are fitted in so seamlessly that you don’t notice. The weird thing is that when the chips are down here, the women go anyway – female Wreccas mysteriously disappear when they reach adulthood – which, it could be argued, would imply that women “can’t” be revolting and horrid, perpetuating some kind of Victorian concept of femininity. Snot is the only female Wrecca we see – and she is ‘redeemed’ – leaving the only ‘baddies’ in the story all male. I’m not going to stay on that one for long, as I’m not sure that I’d argue that, but I did get the feeling that some of the characters were manufactured rather than being allowed to develop by themselves. It’s hammered home when Snot says “I just forgetted, that’s all…Girls is definitely as good as boys.”

My other beef was the perfunctory death of a middling-to-major character. Just because J K Rowling did it, it seems that everyone has to force kids to ‘face up to the reality’ of Death. I don’t even have a problem with that – if a major character has to die to push the plot forward, so be it.

But this was handled so matter-of-factly, that I felt cheated. This character had been responsible for heroic action, and was someone with whom I would argue children would have identified – or at least had sympathy, and their death would have had serious repercussions for at least one other character, who doesn’t get a chance to deal with it in the book. The death warranted more than a short paragraph in the middle of a chapter, followed by “The next day…” This doesn’t prepare kids for the concept of death – or coping with it – this lovable character was dispatched and the story ploughed on.

This all sounds as though I didn’t enjoy it, which is not true. The simple story of good and evil trips along nicely and what I have read into it is one adult’s overview, not how its intended audience (8-10? I’m rubbish at guessing ages for children’s books) might see it (though I still think that the death isn’t dealt with very well at all.) For local children especially, the references to parts of the park and Blackheath will be fun to identify, but I don’t see this as a future classic. Anyone else read it?

BTW I bought the second book in the series as part of a bundle from Amazon, so I will be reviewing that as soon as I’ve read it. Something adult for now for me, though…


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