It’s rare that I start a book I don’t finish. I have a thing about seeing things through to the end. Unless something really bothers me, I will usually stick with it, either in the hopes that it will get better, or because there’s something to keep me turning pages. I tend to care about something, and that something, no matter how small, keeps me going to the end.
I did not finish The Reluctant Assassin.
I’ve been a fan of Eoin Colfer since before I knew how to pronounce his name (it’s Owen). His Artemis Fowl series has been a constant companion through my childhood and served as a constant source of inspiration as I developed my own writing style. One day, I wanted to write books like that. I wanted to write books for children that filled me with the same sense of awe and wonder. I still place Artemis Fowl on my list of favorite books, and up until very recently, it topped that list.
I wanted very much for The Reluctant Assassin to fill me with those same feelings. Instead, I found myself bored.
The Reluctant Assassin has a unique premise. W.A.R.P. Stands for something that I can’t remember at this moment, but it boils down to the FBI of the modern day developing time travel and using it to hide key witnesses in important cases in the past. After all, what better place to hide someone than a hundred years ago? Who’s going to find this person there?
At the start of the book, we are introduced to Riley, the titular reluctant assassin, on what is supposed to be his first kill. Riley and his master, Albert Garrick, are going to kill what initially appears to be a low-level target. Riley, of course, can’t bring himself to actually commit the deed. Riley holds the dagger, but Garrick moves Riley’s hand, just as their target activates a time-travel device. Riley and the man are instantly teleported to modern day London.
There, he meets FBI Agent-In-Training Chevron Savano, who has been tasked with guarding the time hole (but of course doesn’t know what it is). When Riley lands on her doorstep with a dead body, she is immediately confused. Riley is convinced that Garrick will be right behind him, and turns out to be on the money. Chevron and Riley thus find themselves being chased across London and across time by Garrick.
Confused yet? To the book’s credit, what I just described occurs roughly over fifty pages, but doesn’t feel particularly confusing. Everything is explained pretty well, and I never found myself lost. But, since so much of the book’s time is devoted to explaining the labyrinthine plot, something had to get lost in the transition.
Character development. There really isn’t any.
That is, on our heroes. Garrick gets plenty, but more on him shortly.
Riley spends much of the book cowering in fear of Garrick. We, as readers, are told that his is a talented assassin, trained well by Garrick, but rarely does Riley do anything more than cower and worry that Garrick is coming. His fears are founded, but it takes a while for the reader to learn why. Colfer tells us that Garrick is frightening, but rarely are we shown reasons why. At least, at first.
Chevron has a bit more development, but not much. She boils down to a typical wise-cracking tough girl, but she does not have much more than that. There’s a story glossed over about how she lost favor with the FBI because of something she did early in her career (she’s in high school), and that she has been shamed because of it. It’s given little more than a paragraph though, before whisked aside in favor of more danger, or more Garrick screen time.
You wouldn’t know it by the title, but Garrick dominates this book. He’s a magician who learned to love killing when he actually sawed his assistant in half during his last show. It’s an interesting twist on the assassin idea, and it gives Colfer the chance to have some fun with slight of hand. Garrick also has the most fleshed out backstory. We learn about him as a young boy, growing up, the moment he learned to love killing, and so on. He fills the book, and it seems like all character development went to him, whereas Chevron and Riley get the short end of the stick.
When Garrick time-travels to the future, he merges with a former FBI agent, and gains almost mutant powers. He can change appearance, he can assume other voices, he knows everything about modern day technology instantly.
Until he travels back in time and loses it because of reasons.
The biggest complaint I have with the book is the overall lack of character development. I say that we learn the most about Garrick, but so much of his backstory is given in a few short sentences, barely giving me any time to care before being thrust back into the action. Action that I don’t care about, because I don’t really know anyone involved. I don’t care that Chevron and Riley are in danger, because I don’t know them. I don’t want to see Garrick succeed because he’s a vile man, but he’s the only one who gets any development at all.
And ultimately, I found myself bored.
I wanted to like The Reluctant Assassin. But, when I’m 200 pages in and don’t care about any characters involved, I just don’t see why I should keep turning pages. I really wanted to like this book.
I just didn’t.