Title: The Boy Who Stepped Through Time
Author: Anna Ciddor
Genre: Historical Fiction/Time Slip
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 2nd June 2021
Synopsis: An accidental trip back to the Roman Empire sets off a race against time to save a friendship – and a life. A thrilling time-slip adventure from a much-loved Australian author.
When Perry steps into a crumbling ruin while on holiday in France, he is not expecting to be transported back 1700 years to Roman times. While he hunts desperately for a way home, he must blend in as a slave – even if it means eating mice for dinner!
Gradually, Perry is caught up in the fascinating world of grand Villa Rubia and a life he could never have imagined. But when he makes a new friend, he thinks he might already know her terrible fate.
Perry is faced with an impossible choice: to find his way home or stay and guard his friend’s life – and risk being trapped in the past forever…
Fifty years ago, at the age of ten, Anna Ciddor began writing a novel set in Ancient Roman times but set it aside. Yet her first scene stayed at the back of her mind for the next few decades, and finally, together with her sister Tamara – an archaeologist, to research and write what would become The Boy Who Stepped Through Time. Perry is on a holiday with his family in Arles, France when his mother takes them to a festival celebrating Ancient Rome and the Roman Empire. As an archaeologist, she is determined that they attend in traditional, and authentic Roman dress. Whilst there, Perry stumbles upon the grave of a young girl, and finds a stylus. After scratching some Latin into the dirt of the crumbling ruin, he finds himself walking through time, and into a Roman villa, – Villa Rubia – where he’s mistaken as a slave.
Here, he meets Carotus and Valentia, and they become friends, as much as the daughter of the master and slaves can be, and Perry – or Peregrinus as he is known at Villa Rubia – must find out what he has to do back in 313-314 CE so he can go home to his family, back to the twenty-first century. As he tries to find a way to get home, Perry learns more about Ancient Rome and experiences the things his mother talks about, as well as finding out things that may not be in the guidebooks. Perry’s time in Ancient Gaul and the Ancient
No wonder this book took fifty years to write – the story was so engaging, and rich with detail about what children in Ancient Roman times played with such as yo-yos and knucklebones, and how a football was made and the different ways they played with it, that such research not only took time and effort from Tamara, but also, crafting the engaging story and characters. The work that went into this for all involved is immaculate and spectacular and makes for an engaging story. I think it’s amazing that this book took as long as it did, and perhaps there is a reason for that – it needed the close attention to detail from Tamara’s research, and it needed time to percolate for Anna. And perhaps it is also the kind of book we need right now, as many of us can’t travel much. So being able to travel to another country – and even through time in literature gives us somewhere to be when we have to stay at home throughout this pandemic.
Anna’s story also allows the reader to experience history – to feel it, to see it, to hear it, to taste it and to smell it. We get to experience the things that were normal for Valentia and Carotus but alien for Perry as a discovery, like an archaeological dig and peeling back the layers of history. Anna has made the research her sister did accessible for younger readers – and I loved the researcher’s notes at the back that gave more life to what was given to us in the story! Doing this truly brings the book to life – both the fact and fiction that work so seamlessly together. I loved all the characters, and the conflicts between them- from the stark difference between the slaves and their masters, to the universality of some of the interpersonal experiences of the characters throughout the novel. This gave the novel a sense of relatability for the modern reader, because we can all relate to trouble at school, or wanting to do something other than what our parents expect.
Books like this bring history to life – and capture so much that we don’t learn in history class sometimes, or even from textbooks. It brings the archaeological evidence to life and shows that the archaeological evidence holds so much that the written record may not show. Combined though, I feel that archaeology, historical records, history books and historical fiction like this can give us a full-bodied and true appreciation of history, as we can see history through the eyes of the record keepers, interpret the evidence and finally, see the history playing out through the eyes of the ordinary people impacted at the times, and the way they lived their lives in comparison to common assumptions or what records might lead us to believe.
I also interviewed Anna, and that was a fascinating task, as it exposed so much about the process of writing and researching this story, and I loved that Anna gave me such interesting and long answers! The Boy Who Stepped Through Time is a brilliant novel that combines history, archaeology, time travel and conflicts of modernity versus antiquity to teach kids something new and unique in a fun and vibrant way. Ancient Rome and its Empire is a time in history often unexplored, so it was delightful to see it used in this book. This is a fantastic story that can be read for fun and used in educational settings as well.