In The Navigator, Irish author Eoin McNamee has done a gutsy thing he has written a new fantasy for middle grade readers that is not a trilogy. The Navigator is a book to be enjoyed just as it is, presenting a complete and fascinating foray that simultaneously enthralls and inspires.

Owen, the unknowing navigator of the title, is a typical loner until he witnesses a dark flash across the sky that somehow changes everything. As he watches from a hill, another person watches as well a man small in stature but filled with purpose and authority. This is the Sub-Commandant, who brings Owen to join a society of resistors ready to do battle against a horrific menace known as the Harsh. The resistors think Owen has a key part to play in this struggle, but it is unclear whether he is traitor or savior.

McNamee creates a colorful cast that includes Cati, the brave daughter of the Sub-Commandant, and Dr. Diamond, whose ceaseless experiments with time occasionally cause him to talk backwards. On the evil side of the equation are Johnston, the scrap dealer who once chased young Owen out of his junkyard, and his trio of villains with a penchant for opera and humor of the blackest sort. As Owen seeks the key to restore time to its original flow, he also learns the meanings of friendship, courage and sacrifice. McNamee unfolds the story with the same skill evident in his adult novel, Resurrection Man, but also includes enough inventive technology (a boat that skims the sea like an insect, an apparatus to examine the past in minute detail, etc.) to lure video game devotees from pixels to pages. At the heart of The Navigator, however, is time. The novel explores the ramifications of a world where time has run amok, and not in just one direction, either. Time and timing is everything. Reading an inventive fantasy like The Navigator is time well-spent. Ellen Myrick has worked in the book industry for nearly 20 years.

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