Monday, November 24, 2008

The DaVinci Machine: Nick of Time by Ted Bell

And there, hanging by his heels among the shattered rigging and tattered canvas, with the acrid smell of cordite stinging his nostrils, the oddest recollection popped unbidden into his upside down head. A memory from a childhood book, the matchboy who lost his arm to a French cannonball. But still he'd bent down to pick up his still-burning match from the deck with his remaining arm, touched it to the gun's powder hole, and then laughed at the thunderous roar his cannon made. Laughed!

Hanging in the rigging, his comrade dead and the cannonballs flying, Nick had no idea what fate had in store for him.... But he knew he, Nick McIver, had done one quite amazing thing in this life.

He had laughed in the face of danger!

It was the last thing Nick remembered before the upper third of the foretopmast, smashed by a thirty-two-pound ball, came hurtling down from above and struck his head a horrible blow.

How does the twelve-year-old son of a lighthouse keeper, a lifelong resident of a sleepy community on a remote Channel Island, find himself in the thick of a naval battle with a turncoat pirate fighting for the Napoleonic French Navy in a to-the-death battle with Nick's own great-great-great grandfather, captain of HMS Merlin?

Well may you ask.

When sea-struck Nick McIver finds a strangely new-looking sea chest washed up on the beach of little Greybeard Island, its mysterious contents lead him into the kind of adventures Nick had poured over in the many accounts of Lord Nelson's epic naval battles in which his ancestor served. It is 1939, and Messersmitts patrol the skies over the French coast and a giant U-Boat, the secret weapon of the Nazis, is spotted by Nick as he sails his little boat, the Petrel, along the treacherous island coast. Nick learns that the chest contains something of great value to William Blood, a seeming seadog from a previous era who appears as if from thin air to demand it on pain of death.

With the aid of his friend, innkeeper Gunner, a naval gunnery veteran of the Great War, Nick and his six-year-old sister Kate secretly sail into the coastal bastion of Lord Hawke, who alone, Nick guesses, is the only one who can open the sea chest and explain the strange golden globe preserved within. There Nick learns that the globe is itself one of two time machines created by Leonardo da Vinci, the other being in the unfortunate possession of the evil Billy Blood himself, who uses his machine to travel through the centuries, kidnapping youngsters, including the two children of Lord Hawke himself, and enriching himself through the ransom paid by wealthy parents.

What follows is a sweeping, swashbuckling, corker of an adventure story told in the time of two great conflicts, the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, and the beginning of World War II in 1939. While Nick and Lord Hawke time travel back to to the nineteenth century naval clash to rescue Nick's namesake, his great-great-great grandfather, whose ship is breached below the waterline and sinking at the hands of the nefarious Captain Blood, little Kate and England's top spy Hobbes set forth from Lord Hawke's coastal redoubt to deliver Nick's description of the Nazi super submarine to the secret accomplices of Winston Churchill, whose goal is to turn the pacifist British government by convincing them of the Nazi peril growing off their southern shore.

In alternating chapters, the readers see Nick, directing the Merlin's escape through the coastal waters of Greybeard Island known only to him, while Hobbes, with Kate's steely and invaluable assistance, must convince their Nazi captors that he is her father, a disgruntled English lighthouse keeper who is willing to spy for the Axis for a certain sum of money.

Best-selling author Ted Bell's first venture into children's literature, Nick of Time, keeps these dual plot lines humming along with constant close calls and heroic acts which prevent page-turning readers from questioning this audacious plot line too closely. Nick McIver is an old-fashioned boy hero right out of Robert Louis Stevenson--courageous and undaunted by the challenges of any century, a boy whose greatest desire is to laugh in the face of danger. Filled with colorful and well-drawn villains and heroes and chockful of historical detail, this novel will leave suspense, science fiction, and historical fiction fans calling for a quickly delivered sequel. Those adventure-seeking guys who complain that there are not enough books written for a real boy should find plenty to satisfy their danger lust in this heroic-sized novel.

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