Jun 23 2012

North East Book Review: The Hippo-Chronos by Matt Ritson

On a trip to Sunderland recently, my husband, my son and I wandered into Waterstones and perused the shelves looking for something inspiring for our son (9) to read. After persuading him that the Lemony Snicket series might to be his taste we headed for the checkout. We then noticed a gentleman with a pile of books for signing. He was local author, Matt Ritson. He was promoting his new book The Hippo-Chronos or “The Time Horse”. Keen to support a local author, we enquired as to the suitability of the book for our son.

While not targeted at young children specifically, the book is a story of invention, creativity, mystery, history, and some mechanical engineering thrown in. Ideal for my little engineer and his keenness on all things with cogs and gears. The added appeal of time-travel clinched it for me.

Matt Ritson has a background in Greek and Roman history and went on to study Industrial Design Engineering in St Martin’s College in London. His wealth of knowledge in these areas, and his local knowledge gave the book a factual framework on which the story could be built.

The story begins in a rather dark manner, a young boy is about to be sacrificed in Greece in 585 BC, in front of a huge crowd to the god Zeus.   My son was a little disturbed by this at first! There is a whole web of deceit leading up to this point, and this is not the end of the boy’s journey. The book jumps forward to the modern day, in Tynemouth. A  teenage boy, Alex is about to celebrate his birthday while coping with the first anniversary of the strange disappearance of his father, an archeologist. Alex, his three friends and Boris the dog help an old Greek man next door after an explosion in his home. The man, whom they name “Tom” seems to have information about Alex’s father, and is in possession of a mysterious bronze sculpture of a horse, which seems to be more than just a piece of art. Tom persuades the young people to listen to his story, which they can choose whether or not to believe, and help with something they have yet to find out. Alex, in the hope of finding out something about his father’s vanishing, coaxes his friends to stay and hear Tom out.

Tom tells a story of ancient Greek technology, brilliant minds working together to create great machines, while living alongside powerful temples controlling the people by superstition. Where there is technology, there is power for those who would conquer, and this was a time of Roman empire-building.

Real historical figures have roles in the story, genuine historical facts give the story a feeling of veracity. We found ourselves looking up the “Antikithera Device”. We learned the origins of words, for example “fascist”. We discussed the theories of time travel, my son is now totally at home talking about “The Grandfather Paradox”! We learned about the political manipulation and betrayal of her brother by Cleopatra, and the fall of Alexandria to the Romans.

I was personally quite amazed by how far technology had been advanced, so long ago. It seemed almost plausable idea that the ancient Greeks could secretly have created a device that could carry a person through time and space and with some accuracy.

“The Hippo Chronos” is no small book, 372 pages with the author’s notes, prologue and guide to pronunciation. We found it compulsive reading and I looked forward to each night’s installments. There was always something to learn. The modern day characters are likeable, with their own back stories, the mystery of who “Tom” is, and how he could know what happened to Alex’s dad and the intruiguing technology of the steampunk-esque “Time Horse” kept us gripped.  It would make a great film, in my humble opinion. But it would need a massive budget!  I’m so glad we bought this book. We are now waiting for the next one….

Do visit the Time Horse website for more background There are links to retailers including Amazon and Waterstones both as a physical release and an e-book.