Thursday, June 13, 2013

Middle-Grade Review: Infinity Ring

My son had knee surgery last weekend, and with long hours spent at the hospital, stress, and exhaustion, I needed something light and fast-paced to read. Infinity Ring, a new middle-grade time travel series, fit the bill perfectly. I enjoyed Book One: A Mutiny in Time by James Dashner so much that I immediately moved onto Book Two: Divide and Conquer by Carrie Ryan (this is one of those series with different authors for each book and an online tie-in).

Eleven year-olds Dak and Sera have been best friends for as long as they can remember. They are both geniuses – and therefore outcasts among their peers – so they have bonded over their geekiness. To say that Dak is a history buff is an understatement; he’s been reading thick historical tomes since he first learned to read and spouts obscure historical facts constantly. Sera’s talents lie more in science – she’s been messing around with quantum mechanics since she was a preschooler.

This series takes place either in present day or perhaps a bit into the future. It’s hard to tell exactly because Dak and Sera’s world is slightly different from ours. Some of the differences are subtle and trivial, like the different-sounding names and varied spellings from what we’re familiar with. Other differences are more obvious: there are 48 states in the U.S. and its capital is Philadelphia. And one difference is very significant: a powerful group called the SQ rules the world and has been around since the earliest days of civilization. We don’t know much about the SQ except that they are very powerful and very dangerous.

While exploring Dak’s parents’ lab one day, the two friends discover a time travel device that Dak’s parents have been working on, and Sera figures out how to finish it and make it work. Soon after, the two friends are recruited by a group called the Hystorians who explain that there are certain Breaks in history where things went horribly wrong (mostly thanks to the SQ), resulting in the ever-increasing problems facing the world today (frequent extreme weather events, violence, the SQ’s all-encompassing power and abuses). Through an unexpected disaster, Dak, Sera, and a young Hystorian named Riq are sent back in time on their own and have to try to fix the Breaks and set history back on its proper course.

The history here is sometimes a bit confusing since the history of the story differs a bit from our own, but reading about these major events in history made me want to go look them up online and learn more. In addition, each book includes a pull-out guide to an online game that immerses kids in another historical event, as they help Dak, Sera, and Rik to fix another Break. I tried the first game, and it's fun (though my son told me I;m terrible at online games!) It’s clever because you don’t have to play the games in order to enjoy reading the books, but playing the games brings a whole new dimension to the experience and builds on the basic storyline.

There’s nothing I like better than a good time travel plot, and this series is filled with fast-paced adventure set against some fascinating historical backdrops. In the first book, the kids travel back to 1492 when Columbus was setting off on his historical voyage, and in the second, they travel to 885 in France when the Vikings attacked the island city of Paris. The action, historical details, and suspense are all great; I read the two books in just a few days. The writing is not spectacular – dialogue seems a bit stiff and unrealistic at times and I noticed a few anachronisms in speech during their time travel – but it will be satisfactory for middle-grade readers looking for lots of action and a gripping story, and perhaps the addition of the online games (as well as the short length of the books!) will help to engage reluctant readers. I think that all readers will be fascinated and engaged by the historical settings, as I was.

Book One: 190 pages, Scholastic
Book Two: 188 pages, Scholastic

For more information on both the books and the games, head to the Infinity Ring website. You input a code from the book in order to play the games, but for June and July only, the first two games are available for free!


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