Gideon the Cutpurse by Linda Buckley-Archer

Gideon the Cutpurse has the unique honor of being the first full book I read on my beloved Kindle. I have been in another one of my YA fantasy moods and so dove into this delightful first novel in less than a minute as it was whisked to my Kindle via the whispernet.

This is the first volume in the The Gideon Trilogy and was published in the states as The Time Travelers. The story centers around 12-year-olds Peter Schock and Kate Dyer who are thrown together in an incredible adventure. Peter’s nanny is friends with Kate’s mom and after his dad’s work forces him to put off yet another play date Peter heads to Kate’s family farm.

In turns out Kate’s dad is a scientist working for NASA on an anti-gravity machine. While playing with Kate’s dog at her dad’s workshop, both children suddenly disappear. While her parents, and soon the police, wonder how this could have happened Peter and Kate find themselves stranded in the eighteenth century. It seems in trying to build an anti-gravity machine the scientists have created a time machine. Unfortunately, while they were recuperating from their travel through time a villain known as the Tar Man stole the machine. Their only hope is the stranger who finds them in their weakened state, the Gideon of the book’s title.

The story follows the children’s desperate attempts to get the machine back and return home; the police puzzled investigation into what happened; and the parents attempts to deal with the mystery and seeming tragedy . Alternating between the present and the 18th century, what follows is a fast paced adventure with elements of science, philosophy, and history.

As many reviews have noted, it is hard to believe this is a first novel. Buckley-Archer “a scriptwriter and journalist, began writing Gideon as a radio drama. As she read Gideon aloud to her children and they refused to let her stop for supper, she began to see its potential as a novel.”

Whatever her experience she has clearly pulled it all together. The main characters are well developed, which isn’t always the case in the first book of a series, and there are lots of interesting secondary characters.

Buckley-Archer’s fascination with the 18th century comes through in her writing and she uses the story to compare and contrast the cultural, social, and scientific outlooks of the two times. In doing this she doesn’t fall prey to the easy presentation of the past as ignorant and repressed. But at the same time she does highlight the amazing changes that have taken place over the last century. She explores that past not to point out our superiority, or theirs, but simply because it is interesting and full of drama. It is easy, however, to take for granted the life we live and it is often by visiting the past that we are reminded of how differently people have lived; and how lucky we are to have the blessings we do.

Particularly with young adult fiction, there would be a temptation to be overly didactic with this kind of story. Too obvious attempts to be “educational” could have thwarted the story. But Buckley-Archer avoids this temptation by never letting the tension get to low and by crafting believable characters and dialog. The story provides for some thought provoking ideas – particularly about time and time travel – and insights into history, but it does so as a natural part of a compelling adventure.

This may be considered young adult fiction but it is really just old fashioned storytelling: interesting premise, strong characters, suspenseful plot, captivating setting, etc. The result is that Archer-Buckley has created a popular trilogy and has a fan base that eagerly awaits the last book in the series.

So if your young reader hasn’t yet discovered this series, or if you are just looking for a good read, be sure to check out The Gideon Trilogy.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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