Book Review: The Hour of the Cobra by Maiya Williams

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In The Golden Hour, four children discovered a derelict seaside resort that, at the silver hour of dawn and the golden hour of dusk, becomes shiny and new and filled with holiday travellers. They travelled in an elevator that was really an alleviator, a time-travel device designed to alleviate curiosity about historical events. They landed in Paris on the eve of the French Revolution, and only by the most hair-raising adventure managed to escape with their heads. Not bad for a couple of butcher’s kids from the Bronx and a pair of Jamaican-American twins.

Having come through their first historical entangelment unscathed, the kids are offered an unusual opportunity. The Council, by whose invitation alone time travel is possible, invites Rowan and Nina, Xanthe and Xavier to apply for “Frequent Flier” privileges. If they pass this next test, they may be allowed to make frequent visits to history, not only to observe, but also to bring back artifacts prized by collectors. If they fail…well, they may never make it back. Time travel is that risky. One can end up changing history and getting caught in an alternate branch of time. That’s never a good idea.

For their examination, the children accompany Rowan and Nina’s “Aunt” Agatha (actually their godmother) to ancient Egypt. Not ancient ancient Egypt, as such (with mummies and Pharaohs), but “modern” ancient Egypt, in the time of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar. The kids’ mission is to save irreplaceable manuscripts from burning up with the Library of Alexandria…by stealing them a decade before the fire happened.

The children know very well what isn’t supposed to happen. They aren’t supposed to meet anyone famous. They aren’t supposed to get involved with critical events in world history. But that is exactly what Xanthe does, driven into rebellion by frustrating sibling rivalry with her twin. She accidentally lets Cleopatra – the Cleopatra – see her materialize in the temple of the Egyptian goddess Isis. This sets in motion a chain of events that threatens the stability of history as we know it – and the existence of everyone she cares about. To make things right she has to accomplish something that has never been done before, and that may not even be theoretically possible…she has to change history back. She has to destroy one world to save another.

And for that she needs help. She needs the cleverness of her too-clever-by-half brother Xander. She needs a feat akin to mind-reading by young Nina. She needs a display of heroic courage by none other than pudgy, short-winded Rowan. She needs to outwit a spoiled prince and his wily adviser. She needs help from a world where she is supposed to be dead, and where her success will mean total annihilation. And she needs to forget about the fact that, even if she succeeds, the Council will know that she broke their most sacred rule and stomped on the pieces.

The outcome is obvious, considering that the series continues in The Hour of the Outlaw. But the path to that outcome is thrilling, funny, and emotionally rewarding. Don’t miss this marvelous series!