New Books Network Interview: Andrew Varga
I don’t read a lot of YA fiction at this point in time—although my Legends of the Five Directions series is to some extent designed to appeal to readers sixteen and up. But as a historian I am perenially attracted to the idea of time travel (I even played with it in The Not Exactly Scarlet Pimpernel), so Andrew Varga’s seven-part Jump in Time series seemed like a natural fit for my latest podcast interview on the New Books Network.
So far, two books have appeared, both set in the contemporary United States and historical Britain. The Last Saxon King goes back to England just before the Norman Conquest, where Daniel Renfrew, the hero, unexpectedly finds himself. During his mission, he also learns a few remarkable secrets about his heritage. As a result, he is somewhat better prepared for his next adventure in Roman/Celtic Britain, where the local population is determined to resist invasion and occupation by imperial soldiers.
It’s a lot of lighthearted fun packed into short and easily digestible installments, but the personalities of Daniel and his friend Sam come across as entirely plausible for two modern teenagers dragged into circumstances they can neither predict nor control. The missions are well thought through and accurately reflect the historical circumstances of the time, plus there is an underlying thread of tension created by those gradually revealed family secrets. So listen to our conversation. Even if you don’t want to take a jump in time yourself, you must know a few younger readers who will leap at the chance.
The rest of this post comes from New Books in Historical Fiction.
Daniel Renfrew is a typical American sixteen-year-old. His main gripe when the story opens is that his dad insists on home schooling even though Daniel would much prefer attending the local high school with his friends. When we meet him, Daniel is at a shopping mall, where a cop is hassling him as a potential truant. After side-stepping that threat, Daniel returns home to find his dad under assault from a sword-carrying stranger. Dad tosses Daniel a strange device and orders him to say “the bedtime rhyme.”
Against his better judgment, Daniel complies. Next thing he knows, he’s in a pine forest he doesn’t recognize and has no idea what to do next. He screams for assistance, which brings out a very grumpy helper who self-identifies as Sam. Only then does Daniel learn that he comes from a family of time-jumpers, and he’s landed in 1066. He’s stuck in the past, not knowing whether his dad is dead or alive. And although his eccentric education has included all kinds of “weird” skills like sword play and fire building, Daniel is far from prepared for life in the eleventh century.
Daniel and Sam’s second adventure, The Celtic Deception, takes them to late Roman Britain, ca. 60 AD. The provincial governor has decided to make a stand against the Celts, especially the Druids—perceived as powerful sources of popular rebellion by the Roman army. The island now called Anglesey, off the coast of modern-day Wales, has become a sanctuary for Celts fleeing the invaders, so that becomes the governor’s target. Daniel and Sam must scramble to discover their mission, never mind fix it—all while trying to protect the people who have taken them in.