W.A.R.P.: The Reluctant Assassin (Book One)
After releasing the eighth and final book in his popular Aretmis Fowl saga last summer, Eoin Colfer returns with a brand new series full of witty banter, swashbuckling adventures and the collision of magic and technology. In W.A.R.P: THE RELUCTANT ASSASSIN, Colfer has traded in his boy genius and LEPrecon captain for an orphaned assassin’s apprentice and a teenage FBI agent. This first installment promises a new Colfer series that picks up the spirit of the Aretemis Fowl books and turns it into something all its own.
"Colfer is having fun with this book, and when Colfer is having fun, his readers are having fun...In THE RELUCTANT ASSASSIN, Colfer has set himself to create another beloved YA series."
The reader encounters Riley, a Victorian boy with an endearing Cockney accent, on the worst night of his life. Orphaned as a baby, he has been raised by Albert Garrick, who has given up a successful career as an illusionist so that he can spend time on his true passion: murder. After years of training, Garrick is finally ready to let Riley try his hand at killing. Riley, gentle soul that he is, wants nothing to do with dealing death. When Riley hesitates at the crucial moment, Garrick forces his hand. Instead of merely dying, their target seems to dissolve into an orange mist. Elated that he may have discovered true magic at last, Garrick vows to unlock the dead man’s secret and take his skills as an illusionist and assassin to the next level.
In the present day, Chevron Savano, a teenage sort-of FBI agent, has been exiled to England after a misunderstanding that ended her first and only mission. She longs to be a bona fide agent, but she has instead been relegated to watching over a strange, steampunk contraption in the basement of a London house. Like Riley, Chevron lost her parents at a young age and grew up in a series of foster homes. The FBI was the first place where she felt valuable, and she longs to rise through the ranks. To her surprise, the piece of junk in the basement isn’t entirely worthless after all. One day, the mysterious pod begins to vibrate. From within, a young orphan boy emerges. He is oddly dressed and seems to know nothing about the modern world. Chevie can barely believe it when her superior lets her read the top secret information that reveals that this boy may indeed have time traveled from the late 19th century. But Garrick will not give him up so easily. Chevie and Riley must join forces to stop Garrick from manipulating the timestream and stealing Riley back to his miserable life as an assassin’s apprentice.
Colfer is having fun with this book, and when Colfer is having fun, his readers are having fun. He has written an action/adventure/fantasy story that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Colfer repeatedly pokes fun at his own use of hackneyed adventure clichés. Chevron remarks on how convenient it is that the floorplan happened to be arranged that way, and how convenient it is that the villain’s dropped weapon landed directly next to her. As we reach the final pages of the novel, another villain suggests that Riley and Chevron should just give up because we have come to the end of the book. The main characters are very aware that their wild adventures seem to be straight out of a thriller, which they actually are, and Colfer riffs on this to both satirical and self-deprecating effect.
Colfer has also done a fine job of including diverse protagonists in this story. Chevron, one of the viewpoint characters, is Native American. Colfer mentions this when describing her physical appearance, and the only other references to her race come from people living in Victorian England who sometimes call her an “Injun” or an “Injun princess.” Chevron is savvy, tough, quippy and more than capable of handling herself. She is a character of color in a story that has nothing to do with making a statement about race. Of course, it would be unrealistic for Victorian Englanders to refrain from remarking on her race, since Native Americans would be unfamiliar to them. They would only heard about Native Americans in tales from those who had been to North America, who almost certainly relayed a biased account of the people they encountered in this continent.
Like the Artemis Fowl series, W.A.R.P. crosses magic with technology. While things like orange mist and time travel are the stuff of fantasy, Colfer’s insistence that they were developed by top scientists adds, perhaps not credibility, but a distinctive flavor to the world he builds. The contraption that Chevron guards is made of wood and blinking lights. Much of the plot allows its characters to run through Victorian London with modern weaponry. All of this gives the book a steampunk aesthetic that will appeal to anyone who has ever dressed up in a corset and/or top hat.
At times, this book can read like a twisted fairy tale; dark details abound. Garrick remembers forcing Riley to practice his stabbing technique on a dog he killed. A villain’s flunkie contemplates cooking Chevron and Riley in the kitchen and speaks lovingly to his knife of choice. Garrick quits his career as an illusionist when he sawed off his assistant’s legs and found that he enjoyed it. In Garrick, Colfer has created perhaps the most interesting character in the book. Garrick is a viewpoint character, but he is also the main villain. He walks a line between comically bizarre and genuinely menacing.
In THE RELUCTANT ASSASSIN, Colfer has set himself to create another beloved YA series. The epilogue gives readers a hint about the conflict to be addressed in the second book. After the excitement of the first one, readers will eager for the next installment. Fans of Artemis Fowl will devour this witty adventure story and will have to wait until next year to find out whether the second fix will be as good as the first one.
Reviewed by Caroline Osborn on May 6, 2013