I was so excited when I saw Caroline Lawrence was writing a new book, because the Roman Mysteries series was one of my favourites as a kid. Really, they led me to get into Lindsey Davis’ Falco mysteries as a teen, and between the two, they’re responsible for my entire Classics degree. So when I heard about The Time Travel Diaries, I instantly knew I had to read this one!
Book: The Time Travel Diaries by Caroline Lawrence
Read before: No
Ownership: Proof copy sent free of charge by publisher. All opinions my own.
Unlike the Roman Mysteries, where everything happens in the past, here we start in the present day, and as the name implies, there’s time travel! I loved the execution of the time travelling here – it makes perfect sense that you would need to get as close to the original street level as possible, and it really makes you think about the physical and historical geography of the places we live in today. I’ve never been to the London Mithraeum, which is the site used for the travelling here, but I’m going to have to now, as the vivid description here reignited my interest in Mithraic cults (I did a paper on mystery religions and remembered a lot of info while reading this, which made it extra awesome for me!)
Don’t feel that you need to know Classics to enjoy this, though. As always with Lawrence’s books, there’s such a wealth of information stuffed behind every page. You’re learning as you read, but it’s all so exciting that you don’t feel like it! The writing never talks down to you – somehow it just perfectly treads that line of explaining enough but not too much. It’s a really pacey read, too, and Alex is a wonderful character that you instantly support. He makes a great conduit for the reader, as he’s wide-eyed at what he discovers in the past, but is also quick-witted enough to survive. I was rooting for him right from the get-go, and really enjoyed watching him find his feet in Roman London. There are plenty of exciting and memorable scenes, and I absolutely raced through it because it was just such a delicious read.
I loved the concept of looking for the girl with the ivory knife, too (who is a real person from history). Though Alex finds her, he learns that she isn’t necessarily who people in the present have imagined her to be, and there’s an interesting theme about allowing yourself to construct images of history that aren’t based in truth (Sir Arthur Evans should possibly have read this book) – the afterword has an interesting point that you could take the historical details of this book and write a wholly different story. It’s a book that enjoys its own scholarship but wears it lightly. 9-year-old archaeology-obsessed me would have read it a hundred times (26-year-old archaeology-obsessed me has a longer TBR but will still put it on the comfort-reread shelf!).
If you’re looking for a straight up fun adventure in Roman London, then please make sure you get this book! It’s fun from start to finish and rollicks along like the best of children’s literature, and I hope it inspires the next generation of Classicists as well as providing a super fun read. Five out of five cats!