Book Reviews

Review: A Secret in Time by Sally Nicholls

The Pilgrim siblings are back for another adventure – and this time the mirror takes them to 1947!

Book: A Secret in Time by Sally Nicholls

Publication date: 7th October 2021

Ownership: Review copy sent free of charge by Nosy Crow. All opinions my own.

Content warnings: Mentions of parental death.

When siblings Alex and Ruby tumble back through the mirror, they find themselves in the freezing-cold winter of 1947.

Food is scarce in the aftermath of the Second World War and life at Applecott House is hard.

As Alex and Ruby discover they must solve the mystery of a missing family heirloom to ever have hopes of returning home, their adventure takes them trekking across the snow and treacherous ice on a perilous treasure hunt.

Will they make it home and back to the present day or will they be stuck in 1947?

If you’ve not seen my previous reviews, then I recommend checking them out: A Chase in Time, A Christmas in Time, and An Escape in Time all have Alex and Ruby slipping back into different time periods. In A Secret in Time, the mirror takes them to 1947, to experience the Great Winter, rationing, and a hunt for some missing treasure. It’s on the quieter side of things in terms of action, but it isn’t a particularly cosy story.

I found this instalment slightly less satisfying than previous books, mostly due to the lack of historical content. The earlier books in the series spent a lot of time looking at the clothes, food, and habits of the times that Alex and Ruby visit, but this one didn’t feel to me like it had much of that; perhaps because 1947 has fewer differences from the modern day than the other periods, or just because I’m more familiar with the setting, but I think part of it was that the children themselves seemed less interested in it. Ruby does nothing but complain about the food (which is one of the areas that does get some focus), and both of them have lots to say about the cold, but there’s no sense that they’re enjoying themselves this time. I was left with a feeling that 1947 was terribly bleak – and while that may be true to history, it’s not the most enjoyable thing to read about in a series that tends to be more high-energy. I was expecting more of a balanced view, finding some positives as in previous instalments.

Where previous books seemed to share the main character spotlight between Alex and Ruby, this book felt very much like Alex’s book, and I wonder if it’s setting up for Ruby to leave. She is at the upper end of a protagonist for middle grade anyway, and she’s definitely acting more teenage here – she’s honestly not very likeable in this book at all, since she mostly just whinges about how horrible it is all the time. Given there are really interesting sibling dynamics between the three children from 1947, it would have been nice to have Alex and Ruby’s relationship be as strong a focus as it usually is; even if they were fighting, it would have added a layer.

For all my complaining, this is a solid instalment in the series, and kids who love puzzles will enjoy the riddle of the highwayman’s treasure trove. This would be an interesting addition to schoolwork about evacuees too (which I remember doing, and Alex himself talks about!), as it is informative about the long-reaching effects of World War Two: things didn’t just snap back to normal in 1945. Plus, there’s a Railway Children-esque scene at the end which is guaranteed to make parents tear up… Overall, this isn’t my favourite of the series, but I still recommend it. Three and a half out of five cats!

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