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Book Review / The String Rider (2021)


I read this book last year with the intent of getting the review out then for book of the month (no longer running currently), so many apologies to the author. Anyway, I read it again to refresh my memory and it was just as fun the second time round.


We meet Trevor, a fatherless, overweight, squarish just-turning twenty-year-old guy, who has managed to bag the girl of his dreams. Gorgeous, wild, outrageous Rubie, who he rescued from her terrible boyfriend in the cafe she worked at. Stole her, haha. But his astonishment at bagging the girl smothers her true intentions, and on the night of his birthday she asks him again to try the thing...


There's this weird watch-thing you see, and it's really a time travel device. Trevor's drunk, disbelieving and a bit annoyed but he finally succumbs. It works not by sending the body but the mind or somesuch into the future, and Rubie says to travel a year, and while there he needs to get the lottery numbers. But even though she warns him going any further in time is dangerous - ten years is pushing it and any more...you might, well, you might be dead... - Trevor jimmies the control right before he slams the button. Twenty years here he comes. And when he wakes up next to a sleeping woman he thinks is Rubie, meets a little girl who is seemingly his daughter and falls down the stairs only to be mocked by a judgy Jesus on the wall, his life is thrown upside down...literaly.


Time travel is one of those sketchy sub-genres of science fiction as it can so easily be badly executed or fail the believability test. Less is more a lot of the time (sorry) and The String Rider manages to not get too bogged down by the scientific, but brings it up when and where necessary, to introduce theories and pondering on the feasability of what is essentially mind-travel. It also brushes the question of what happens (in this book at least, unless I missed the invention of such technology!) when you go back in time as opposed to forward, and these little sparks give you something to think about along the way. That and the terrifying prospect of literally killing your present and future self from a heart attack when you zip back to your contemporary body. Shite.


Trevor is a led by lust and his lower extremities at first, astonished that something as amazing as Rubie happened to him. But once he leaps into his future self, a well-toned grown man, married to a woman who loves him - who's not Rubie - and father to a sweet little girl, he begins to assess Rubie's true intent. There's a nice scene between him and his future step-father (and also his mother in the past) where he discovers he's seen as a good father (and a good son), a goody-two-shoes even, that begins to change the way he sees himself. Then discovering Rubie's dead in this future he uses another leap back to the future (hehe) to get his university students to discover how it happened, turning the time-travel romance into a bit of a mystery-thriller.


There's a lot packed into this novella, but the author's grip on the story means that all the elements are kept well in check. I think it could have taken longer to explore maybe a little more about Rubie and her boyfriend and I think it would really have worked well with some extra mystery turns. But time travel books can wind themselves into endless cycles of the butterfly effect where expanding story is concerned, and so where the room for expansion isn't taken, it isn't marred because the story itself and Trevor's subsequent leaps between himself, past and future, are compelling enough to keep the pages turning. He actually learns something along the way, and the book is led by primarily character and not plot, which gives it the edge over books whose plot is driven by the butterfly effect.


The String Rider is light enough to be a "holiday read" or for those unaccustomed (or previously unwilling) to try a bit of sci-fi, but interesting enough to introduce some ideas beyond the mainstream, and John Espie's writing was enjoyable and hilarious at times (La-dash-a!) - almost as interesting as his author bio! I'd certainly like to delve into more of his work in the future once my swarming to-read pile reduces.

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