By Peter Cain
Published by Young Haven/Haven Books
ISBN 978 9881 80943 8
Time travel adventures when teenagers travel to a time and place more exciting than their own are nothing new, so when another one arrives on the scene it is seldom a reason to get excited.
But Peter Cain's Tommy Tan and the Bowl of Time manages to keep up with other similar yarns and sometimes even forge ahead because of its interesting characterisation and non-stop plot. And any novel where the means of time travel is an ancient Chinese ceramic bowl has certainly got to be worth a look.
Tommy Tan lives in Manchester in the north of England. His best friend is a local boy called John Cresswell. One day, the two pals are exploring the loft of the Tan's house when they come across a beautiful ceramic bowl and a pair of ornate chopsticks. The bowl fascinates the boys, but they know they will get into trouble if they take it out of the attic. They also sense that asking questions about their find would be the wrong thing to do.
Later, while on holiday with his family, John is drawn to a seedy-looking bookshop. Inside, he finds himself opening an ancient book called Chinese Magic Potions and Spells. And there on a page staring up at him is a picture of the exact same bowl and chopsticks that he and Tommy found in Grandma's trunk. The picture is headed "Devices for Transportation".
The mysterious owner of the bookshop presents John with the book, and the Cresswells set off home. Back in Manchester, Tommy and John pore over the book and are intrigued to see that the bowl in the attic is identical to a magic bowl that can be used to transport people from one place and time to another. Can this possibly be true?
The boys are dismayed to discover that Tommy's parents have sold their bowl to a local second-hand dealer, and they decide to get the bowl back at all costs. Little do they know they are about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime.
The first few chapters of the book alternate between what Tommy and John are up to, and seventh-century ancient China, where Prince Wat Su is defending his land against attacks by the warrior Boon Kong. Obviously these two story strands are going to be brought together, and sure enough, it isn't long before Tommy and John are whisked back to ancient China.
Here they meet princes, warriors and the Monkey King. The two boys get caught up in a battle to defeat an evil wizard and save the last of a tribe of pandas. Will they succeed? And will they ever get back home?
Tommy Tan and the Bowl of Time is a strong fantasy adventure. At first, some readers may feel that the novel doesn't really offer anything they haven't seen before, but once the story takes off it's a rip-roaring read for younger teens who like their fantasy served up with clarity, a bit of history and nothing else to get in the way.