REVIEW: Invictus by Ryan Graudin

by Ryan Graudin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Length: 464 pages

Release date: 26th September 2017

Amazon UK | Amazon US

Farway Gaius McCarthy was born outside of time. The son of a time-traveling Recorder from 2354 AD and a gladiator living in Rome in 95 AD, Far’s birth defies the laws of nature. Exploring history himself is all he’s ever wanted, and after failing his final time-traveling exam, Far takes a position commanding a ship with a crew of his friends as part of a black market operation to steal valuables from the past.

But during a heist on the sinking Titanic, Far meets a mysterious girl who always seems to be one step ahead of him. Armed with knowledge that will bring Far’s very existence into question, she will lead Far and his team on a race through time to discover a frightening truth: History is not as steady as it seems.

“The Corps had only ever been a means to an end. The end itself remained: a time machine at Far’s back, centuries for the seizing, the Ab Aeterno waiting to be found somewhere among them. As tempting as it was to go full-on Pavlovian–drool on the warehouse floor, et cetera–Far knew dreams weren’t handed over without a price.”

As the crew of the Invictus would say: Hash, I loved this one. I swear, YA sci-fi and fantasy keeps getting better and better, with Invictus amongst the most audacious I’ve seen yet. It’s heaven for history nerds and popular science fans both–think a YA version of Interstellar with shades of Edge of Tomorrow. (Having never watched Doctor Who, I can’t attest to that comparison, but other reviewers seem to agree that it fits.)


Invictus isn’t a perfect novel. The major flaw is the romance, which felt forced, to say the least. I often notice with YA novels these days that a lot of the romance gets thrown in almost as an afterthought, like the author realised halfway through that “crap, this is a YA novel, so it needs to have some snogging, right?” and throws it in at the expense of pages that could be used to further plot or character development in other directions. Other than that, I have some minor issues with the way Central works, like: It’s built on the location of modern Rome and supposedly the ultimate global city, so why does it use month/day/year, a date configuration used by exactly one country in the world? And how could Historians possibly learn the details of all the millennia of history and locations they visit; why hasn’t somebody thought of introducing specialisations–you know, the way academics do it in the year 2017?

But those are minor issues. Nitpicky. Now that I’ve gotten them out of the way, there’s a lot more of the positive to say about this globetrotting, timetrotting gem of a novel:

In particular, I’m a big fan of Graudin’s beautiful writing style, which reminds me somewhat of Rosamund Hodge‘s in that it’s elegant at poignant moments, where it needs to be, but appropriately light and witty elsewhere. You’ll find no abuse of overwrought prose that makes every plot point seem like the climax. The weightier language is perfectly timed, such that reading some of those passages sends a chill down the spine. Plus, naming and terminology are on point. Names manage to have symbolic significance while sounding natural and staying subtle, while the turns of phrase that Far’s squad use sound plausible for teenagers three centuries into the future.

World building and exposition are masterfully done. There’s an insane amount of information that needs to be conveyed with a premise like this book’s, from the lifestyle of citizens in the utopian Central to the logistics of time travel to the clothing and mannerisms of people in each of the historical settings visited. Despite all of this, there are never passages that feel like info dumps. Which means, descriptions are seamlessly integrated alongside the action, a mark of excellent writing. As if that isn’t already worthy of mad props, Graudin also immerses you completely in the settings. It’s like virtual reality of the past.

The dynamic between Far’s team is #squadgoals. Romance notwithstanding, the way they interact feels very natural. Then there’s Eliot, who just blows everything else out of the water while axing your best-laid plains. The dynamic between her and Far is superb. In early chapters, Eliot’s POV brings just the right amount of mysteriousness that keeps you reading on, but doesn’t make you chuck the book out of frustration. Rest assured, all will be revealed to those who wait patiently, because Invictus is worthy of the grandeur of the Colosseum it invokes.


*Thanks to NetGalley and Hachette Children’s Group for a review copy of this book! All opinions represented remain my own.*

View all my reviews

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