Book Review: The Time Thief

Book Review: The Time Thief

The Time Thief by Patience Agbabi. Designed by Rafaela Romaya and illustrated by Debbie Cartwright.

The Time Thief

Written by Patience Agbabi

224 pages

Published by Canongate Books

Publication date: 6th May 2021

Summary (from Goodreads):

Elle is back! This time she’s leaping almost three whole centuries back in time, to catch a thief, help her friend and save our future

It’s mid-summer’s day and thirteen-year-old Elle and her Leapling classmates are visiting the Museum of the Past, the Present and the Future. But on the day of the school trip, disaster strikes, and the most unique and valuable piece in the museum, the Infinity-Glass, is stolen! And worse still, Elle’s friend and fellow Infinite, MC² is arrested for the crime!

To prove his innocence Elle must leap back centuries in time, to a London very different from today. Along the way she will meet new friends, face dangers unlike any she has ever known, and face an old enemy who is determined to destroy her. Can Elle find the missing Infinity-Glass and return it to its rightful home before it’s too late?

First impressions: From the first moment I met Elle in the first book in The Leap Cycle, The Infinite, I loved her. She has such a strong narrative voice, simply walking off the page and drawing me effortlessly into her world. The world-building in the first book is also fantastic, done in an organic way that never feels like info-dumping. Leaplings, children born on 29th February as rare, but even rarer are those who have the gift of being able to travel through time. In The Infinite, I loved the representation as Elle is a neurodivergent, black girl and her best friend, Big Ben, is also autistic and dyslexic and Kwesi is non-verbal/visual ASD. There is an interesting discussion in the first book when Elle meets Leaplings from different time periods and they mention that they never received a diagnosis or support in their time period, but might have done if they had lived in another time. The fact that in 2048, every building legally has to have facilities to support neurodiversity is fantastic! Check out my review of the first book, The Infinite, for more of me gushing about how incredible it is!

For now, as soon as I was offered the chance to be on the blog tour for Book 2 in The Leap Cycle, The Time Thief, I leapt at the chance (no pun intended!). I couldn’t wait to travel back into Elle’s world in a second book that somehow managed to be even better than the first!

Thank you so much to Canongate Books for my review copy and inviting me to be part of the blog tour!

Elle is an autistic black girl who is fascinated by sports and words. In the first book she is delighted to meet people with names that are palindromes. As a reader, I enjoyed the playfulness with language throughout these books, especially with the character names being related to time and the reference to the paradox of time travel in the name of the antagonists, The Vicious Circle.

I would love to see more characters like Elle in both children’s and adult literature – she is instantly unique, believable and her narration of the story brings a unique perspective due to her cultural background, neurodivergence and particular interests. As a teacher, I am always excited to read books that reflect the wonderful diversity of our world and I truly believe that we need more books like this where characters are fully-fleshed out, with flaws, disabilities and unique abilities. As autism has traditionally been diagnosed more prevalently in boys, it is fantastic to see a female autistic main character and to have it be acknowledged, without the book becoming an ‘issues’ book.

In The Time Thief, Agbabi builds on themes started in the first book, with Elle travelling back to the past and experiencing life in 18th century London. I have to admit that I know very little about this time period, but this book has had me researching and has definitely sparked my interest in finding out more! For example, I knew that the calendar has been reformed several times, but I hadn’t realised that ten days (3-13th September, inclusive) were removed from the calendar in 1752 to correct the discrepancy from the old calendar when switching to the new style Gregorian calendar. I find it hard enough losing an hour when the clocks change so I can imagine that those ten days would have been sorely missed!

Friendship is a strong theme throughout both books and I loved how the relationships between people is given such importance, such as looking at Elle’s relationship with her grandmother or how she worries about what other people think of her, especially as she is aware that her becoming ‘tongue-tied’ or her direct questioning can be misinterpreted.

With the introduction of Francis, we look at some of the race issues in Britain’s history. There is so much scope for readers, young or old, to go on to reading more about the historical periods as well as looking at the changes made in the future (in The Infinite we see that meat is only eaten on rare occasions and neurodivergence is officially supported).

In Elle’s original timeline, there are references to poverty; this is something which I never saw in books I read as a child. While books are designed to transport you away from the real world, it always felt a little like the adventures in many of the books could never happen to me due to the fact that nobody in books ever had to worry about money. It’s a No-Money Day and The Exact Opposite of Okay are recent books where this has been handled sensitively and realistically, while in fantasy The Name of the Wind features a protagonist for whom money is a constant struggle, not just a problem that is overcome in one night. The Leap Cycle books are refreshing in touching on so many topical issues and representing diversity in a myriad of ways.

I thoroughly enjoyed this second adventure with Elle and her friends and cannot wait for Books 3 and 4! The first two books are currently on my shelf in the classroom with a waiting list of eager Year 6s waiting to get stuck in.

With its fast pace, fascinating characters and inventive writing style, this book is sure to be a hit with readers everywhere.

About the Author (from Canongate):

Patience Agbabi

Patience Agbabi was born in London in 1965 to Nigerian parents, spent her teenage years living in North Wales and now lives in Kent with her husband and children. She has been writing poetry for over twenty years, and her first novel for children, The Infinite, the first in the Leap Cycle series, was published in 2020. Like Elle, she loves sprinting, numbers and pepper soup, but, disappointingly, her leaping is less spectacular.

Listen to an author interview about The Time Thief on Fun Kids Live,

Watch Patience Agbabi introduce the first book in the series, The Infinite, on the Reading Zone Book Club.

Listen to another extract read by the author on Bookbound. Perfect to make sure you’re pronouncing Elle’s name correctly! 🙂 Patience Agbabi also talks about how much she loved reading as a child and her love for time travel books such as Tom’s Midnight Garden (one of my favourites!)

It has also just been announced by The Bookseller that there will be a Book 3 and 4 still to come – can’t wait!

What I liked: Everything! This series is just so original and refreshing to read. I love the playful use of language throughout (Patience Agbabi’s background as a poet really shows here!) and Elle captured my heart from the moment I first met her. I love the casual representation of neurodivergence and how stereotypes about race and social status are examined and challenged. We need more books like this!

Even better if: Can I have books 3 and 4 already?

How you could use it in your classroom: This would be a brilliant read-aloud for Year 3 upwards and should be a staple in any primary library. It would be interesting to read in conjunction with other books featuring autistic narrators (E.g. Can You See Me? , How to Look for a Lost Dog, etc) and can be used to allow children to develop empathy for others (a window book) and to see themselves represented (a mirror book).

What did other people think?

Donna @TheUntitledBookBlog said: ” Overall, The Time-Thief is a great middle-grade book, with a diverse cast and interesting plot.”

Louisa @RoaringReads said: “The Time-Thief is a smart and intriguing story full of clever clues that kept us guessing. It celebrates language and mathematics as equally powerful playthings, and reminds young readers that there are no boundaries to where your imagination can take you.”

Don;t miss the other stops on this blog tour!


An ingenious, exhilarating adventure — SOPHIE ANDERSON, author of THE HOUSE WITH CHICKEN LEGS

An adventure so thrilling it makes time fly! — BEN MILLER, author of THE BOY WHO MADE THE WORLD DISAPPEAR

A time-travel mystery that manages to incorporate criminal masterminds, neurodivergence, racial inequalities, intertemporal friendships and Samuel Johnson – all narrated in Elle’s exuberant and energetic voice. Even better than The Infinite! Loved it! — FLEUR HITCHCOCK, author of THE BOY WHO FLEW

In The Time-Thief, Agbabi has written a second instalment to the Leap Cycleseries that even exceeds the first. Elle is a delightful character to follow: not just a well-rounded heroine with a unique set of beautiful insights, but also an important example of meaningful representation in a literary arena where Black autistic girls are rarely represented. In reading The Time-Thief you also get a clear sense of how much Agbabi loves creative wordplay, as she tells a gripping time-travel story that keeps you guessing, while clearly having fun with the English language along the way! A creative, imaginative novel with a fascinating lead character — CHRIS BONNELLO, author of UNDERDOGS

What a delight to be back in the company of Elle and her Infinite friends. The Time-Thief is chock-full of wicked wordplay and time-travelling conundrums, but also a breathlessly paced thriller. Time disappears while reading this book, so Agbabi actually proves that time travel is real — STEVE TASANE, author of CHILD I

The Time-Thief pulses to its own thrillingly original beat. An exhilarating, intelligent and twisty time-travelling mystery — SINEAD O’HART, author of THE EYE OF THE NORTH

The Time-Thief is a gripping and thought-provoking zigzag across time and across London for children from all ages! — S.I. MARTIN, author of INCOMPARABLE WORLD

A wonderful time-travelling adventure that fizzes with thrills and ideas — CHRISTOPHER EDGE, author of THE LONGEST NIGHT OF CHARLIE NOON

An adventurous, thoughtful sequel to The Infinite with great characters and an excellent Samuel Johnson appearance — ELLE McNICOLL, author of A KIND OF SPARK

A brilliantly imaginative series . . . The Time-Thief is a thrilling adventure story with loveable characters, evil villains and high stakes — Scottish Book Trust

While you’re here, why not check out my reviews of The Great Revolt, Mohinder’s War, Bearmouth, Diary of a Confused Feminist or Break the Fall?

Find me on Twitter, Goodreads or Instagram

Thanks for reading!

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