Defender of Time Series, book one
Parity Press - Copyright 2005
Book reviewed June 2005
Review by Jackie Sachen Turner
Spunky Shelby has lived with her uncle, Colonel Leviticus Pottsmore for two years, ever since Shelby's mother died and years after her father's mysterious disappearance. During these two years, Shelby and her next-door neighbor Casey Calper have built a solid friendship, as solid as the tree house they built in the huge oak between their homes. Distance would seem to part this relationship because Shelby must leave her uncle's home and embark on a new adventure at Ms. Peabonnet's Academy for Girls. While saying their good-byes, Casey helps Shelby pack her most prized possession -- her nic-nac pack -- a thin, blue belt with ten zippered pockets that house her special things, including a star-shaped hunk of metal that is similar to the star shaped birthmark on her left shoulder.
At the academy for girls, Shelby meets her second best friend and brainy sidekick, Molly Macpac, as well as her nemesis and seasoned bully, Harrietta Hindmore. While Shelby and Molly deal with school and the bullying of Harrietta, they are shadowed by a mysterious stranger clad in a long dark coat and hat. Despite this lurking danger, brave Shelby explores the grounds around Ms. Peabonnet's Academy for Girls and delves into a mystery surrounding an old fire in the science wing and a missing professor. During Shelby's explorations, while inventor and fact-finder Molly dutifully researches historical events in the school library, Shelby discovers a cave, a prehistoric egg, and the magical "Guardian" sword that she then wears sheathed on her back.
One evening when Shelby and Molly decide to explore the destroyed science wing, the menacing stranger, whose identity is finally revealed, appears as well as Harrietta and one of the teachers. Shelby runs for her life, right onto a platform that has a small recessed area that happens to be the shape of her own metal star that Shelby retrieves from her nic-nac pack. Suddenly she's whisked away by the "Shifting Rings," the time-traveling portal, to prehistoric times and comes face-to-face with someone who will change her life.
Is the story over yet? No, there's more (and you might want to skip this plot-spoiler paragraph that covers the book's last 50 pages). Once Shelby returns to her own time, she rescues her friends from the dark-clothed stranger by wielding the "Guardian" sword, which gives her special powers to fence at lightning speed compared to normal time. The stranger, fearing Shelby's powers, uses the Shifting Rings and escapes to the 1800s -- a time when Shelby's ancestor Sir Edmond Kincaid first discovered the time-travel device, the metal star key, and Guardian sword. Shelby must save the day by also "shifting" to the 1800s to keep the time-continuum from drastically changing the future. After solving the mystery, with more surprises, Shelby is reunited with her friend Casey. The story ends, hinting at the sequel, which will propel the group to ancient Egypt, around 1200 BC, and which, hopefully, will include the cute prehistoric creature Newton.
Veillon's story with a young female hero and her brainy female friend is a noticeable change from the many male-hero adventure books. This story provides a fun fantasy-romp for middle readers! Bits of humor flit between lines, and names of the teachers at Ms. Peabonnet's Academy for Girls bring a chuckle: Professor Uppsy, Prof. Nitpic, Prof. Sniptip, Prof. Bugpacker (biology, of course), to name a few. Although not as interesting or fleshed out as J. K. Rowling's teachers in the Harry Potter series, the teachers' few personality traits come to life. Unfortunately for young readers looking for numerous magical and fantasy elements, the bits of magic Shelby experiences, other than time-travel, are few and far between. Especially as compared to the exciting magic found in the Harry Potter books. Still, Shelby's character is strong and inquisitive, and she has a good sense of herself, which feels quite refreshing for a female protagonist.
Although this book is fun and easy to read, like most first novels Shelby and the Shifting Rings contains a few rough spots. When Shelby meets the professor during her jump to prehistoric times, an overly long narrative about time travel and the Shifting Rings' history occurs -- more "tell" than "show." Also, time travel can be tricky to write because a simple change in the past can cause chaos in the future. For example, Shelby casually mentions to her 1800s relative that Benjamin Franklin was a great inventor. When Shelby returns to her present time, she finds that her family is suddenly rich from investments that the relative made in the "new past." Shelby now returns to an "altered present" reality. So, who remembers the old past and who remembers the new future? How did the new wealthy future affect the family? Even this "minimal deviation" can wreak havoc with reality. Most middle readers might not focus on the altered reality problems. Still, there are some inquisitive, insightful kids out there who might question Shelby's new future. Veillon adds three clever rules that must be followed so as not to disrupt the time continuum too much. For example, you have to be careful not to travel too far back or you might end up in a lava flow. And for the other two rules? Read the book to discover what chaos can occur with time-travel glitches.
Veillon introduces creative tidbits but, unfortunately, never returns to them. For example, sixteen pages into the story we read about Shelby's divination dice, however, we never hear about them again. Also, Casey seems to be Shelby's best friend in the first few pages of the book, but then he plays a very minor role in the remainder of the story and could have been left out entirely without affecting its outcome one iota. It seems, though, that butterfly expert Casey will return in book two; and I will welcome his return, hopefully, as a more active character. My biggest nit-pick is having to wait, reading through several chapters, for any sign of the "Shifting Rings" mentioned in the story's title. It takes reading half the book before hints show up about the time-travel device located at Ms. Peabonnet's Academy for Girls. This concept might have been introduced in earlier chapters, foreshadowing future time jumps for Shelby. One interesting note, the Shifting Rings construction seemed similar to, although smaller and more intricate than, the Goa'uld's transporter device shown in the movie and TV series "Stargate."
Veillon sprinkles vivid, fresh metaphors throughout the novel, i.e., "events...swirled thorough her head like ice cream in a blender," "classes seemed to fly by like a fast-moving train," the beam of a flashlight sends "thousands of tiny sparkles into the air like a wave of diamonds," or "events...were rattling around in her head like a million marbles on a merry-go-round." Delightful and unique, the similes and metaphors added tremendously to the reading of Shelby's adventures.
All-in-all, Shelby and the Shifting Rings moved well and was quite entertaining, with a clever plot where generosity and cooperation triumph over greed. Shelby is a character with whom many young girls can relate, and the projected sequel holds promise for boys with the return of Shelby's other best friend Casey.
Try this wholesome mystery/fantasy; you might like it!
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