Mark Lawrence’s teenage time-travel fantasy has all the elements to make an easy comparison with Stranger Things: a group of Dungeons & Dragons playing friends in the 1980s encounter some actual weird stuff and must solve a deep mystery while coping with a host of real-life problems.
The comparison obscures the novels distinct charm and personality. Set in an not always convincing 1980’s London, the novel is focused on a single character Nick Hayes — a mathematical prodigy struggling with chemotherapy for a potentially terminal case of leukaemia. The more fantastical events that intrude into his life drive the plot but the bulk of the story deals with the interplay between Nick, his friends and the more mundane threat of two bullies aspiring to be brutal criminals.
Deftly written, the story carries some real emotional punches but few surprises. The supernatural/science-fictional element has its own twists but not ones that are terribly surprising. However, the story plays out deftly and what it lacks in the unexpected it makes up for in engaging characters and atmosphere.
Apparently this is part one of a series (Impossible Times #1) but the story works as a stand alone novel. Very enjoyable.