Does anybody have any idea of what makes a book Young Adult fiction? I would have said a teenaged lead character was the starting point, but in the case of Boone Shepard it’s hard to pinpoint the age of the Australian journalist with a dark past, particularly once he starts jumping through time as well. From the 1960s back to the 1880s, Boone always seems like a character out of step with life around him, and perhaps that’s what makes this a Young Adult novel; it’s that way of seeing the world in a different way. Here we get thrust into a universe where every day is an adventure within a story within a strange bunch of happenings that never quite all tie up to make sense.
Even so, I’d be reluctant to say this was a book for teenagers alone. If it was made into a film (which I think would suit it) there would be no doubt in my mind that it would be one of those great family entertainment films that rarely get made any more. There’s a strong feeling of Indiana Jones about the character of Boone Shepard, who is sent off to inhospitable places on wild goose chases and never fails to have a wisecrack for every situation. He’s certainly good company, as are the sassy, capable female companions he rubs along with, and his grumpy editor in chief also brings along a classic Clark and Lois feel.
But there’s a darker side to Bergmoser’s novel, with some classic Victorian characters such as Dorian Gray, Sherlock Holmes, and Dracula himself making an appearance, alongside the authors who created them. It’s great to meet Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker for a few pages, although I don’t know how much anybody who’s not that interested in classic horror literature would get out of it. Still, the supernatural elements (along with the time machine, of course) also give the book the flavour of a light-hearted episode of The X-Files at times, as the odd couple of Boone and his rival Promethia Peters are told to get out there and investigate occurrences.
If that seems like a lot of reference points to touch, then I would say the book does it knowingly, and makes a good job of it. For, at heart, this is a book about the act of creating stories. How events are turned into tales, how those tales then live on and cannot be destroyed, haunt both Boone Shepard and the readers. We’re travelling through time, meeting familiar faces and coming across some who seem to be new acquaintances but turn out to be old friends or enemies. Their stories have all been written and rewritten so many times, but here we go again. And we’ll get to experience them from a different angle, so that the whole thing is just fresh enough to get us interested once more.
Boone Shepard is, therefore, all about story and it sprints down this path of action and adventure. There are very few quiet moments. I could have done with a little more breathing space at times, particularly as when we do get a moment of description or reflection it shines. Generally the writing is able and workmanlike, easy to follow and to enjoy, but it’s the odd few paragraphs of deeper thinking that stayed with me.
Here’s where I wonder not only if this is Young Adult entertainment, but also if being a novel at all is to its best advantage. Yes, is it written in a filmic style, but it’s also a little too light on the kind of writing that makes best use of the novel format, for me. Having said that, publisher Bell Frog Books is doing more than simply putting out a book and I can see why. The material seems to naturally lend itself to short, sharp adventures via digital formats – there’s already a fun prequel up for reading at their website – and Sanspants Radio will be releasing an audiobook version which I think will really suit this story. Boone’s voice, relating aloud his journeys in laconic fashion, will perhaps be the best fit for his particular brand of derring-do.
So there’s a universe being created here, and it’s a very enjoyable one which isn’t afraid to take well-worn characters and ideas and put a new spin on them. If there really is nothing new under the sun, then why not celebrate the old? Or perhaps we should call them the timeless; just as Dracula and Sherlock Holmes have become creations outside of their own times, so the character of Boone Shepard is a man out of time. He’s not Young Adult, and he’s not Old Adult. He’s in that general and yet so rare category of Enjoyable By All, and in many formats. I’d recommend seeking him out in one form or another if you’re a fan of Fox Mulder, Van Helsing, Clark Kent, Victorian Literature, or any of the other diverse influences that all get crammed into this short and surprising read that heralds the arrival of a big new playpark of ideas.