The Boy Who Stole Time by Mark Bowsher is the first Unbound novel I’ve read (I think).
It is a good mixture of good humoured and intense, aimed (I assume) at a young adult audience. The main plot involves a young boy named Krish, adventuring to another world to steal physical time (Myrthali…its like…sand) to save his sick mother. Luckily, he meets a plucky young (illegal) wizard named Balthrir, who agrees to help him with three seemingly impossible tasks to get the Myrthali from a despicable king.
The world and tasks are absurd, but no more so than any other fantasy novel. It almost feels like Mark Bowsher is poking fun at the grand fantasy tradition (but in a loving way). However, the strange new world of Ilir was also just so delightfully strange, that it was hard not to appreciate the effort that went into imagining it. For example, there’s a massive tree, that is so large, that it uproots a mountain that sits in its branches. What an utterly delightful image.
But there are also the Vulrein, a magical creature that hunts Krish and can hone in on him whenever he closes his eyes. They were properly creepy and I could imagine a young me being quite freaked out by them. Or the Black Palace which is literally made of people, making it a living, breathing palace. There were so many lovely elements which were properly imaginative.
However, sometimes the world could just seem a bit too cruel, which was an unnecessary distraction. The way the king and the nobles act and especially the Goonmallins (a group of people Krish has the misfortune to meet) felt a bit over the top sometimes. In general, I find the cartoonish violence and almost impossible odds to overthrow a bad guy in the book can sometimes undermine the construction of an otherwise very interesting world. It irked me a little it in this book, but I think the weirdness of the world makes it less of an issue than if it had been a very serious fantasy novel.
My other main criticism would be that because the more action focussed parts of the plot were quite intense, it made the more chill parts of the journey a little less interesting. I found my greatest gaps in time between reading was during these parts of the novel. However, this is generally when we get some of the relationship building between Krish and Balthrir, so it wasn’t just filler. I know I would have been annoyed if they hadn’t been included, as the decisions at the end really require that relationship to be there to make the characters’ actions seem credible.
But at the heart of the novel is this lovely friendship between boy from Earth and girl-wizard from Ilir. I think this was my favourite exchange (especially the last line) in the book:
“Balthrir gave him a warm little smile. ‘Yeah. And I’d think of yer every time I ran into a bloody idiot! And I’d be like, “Nah! Y’er an idiot, mate, but I’ve known better!”
It’s really hard not to like Balthrir. She was a great mix of tough, vulnerable, forthright and determined. I loved her liberal use of ‘bloody idiot.’ She overshadows Krish a little bit, but he still definitely has his moment to shine.
It was a fun read, and definitely something to recommend to any voracious younger readers (especially if they don’t mind some intense moments).
I think many authors try to make things feel magical, but I think Mark uses magic in vividly visual ways that really make an impression in your mind. The world is beautifully absurd which mean there are some truly wonderful moments throughout the novel.