Sam Faulkner turns fourteen at the beginning of The Book of Time. His father has disappeared almost two weeks previously and hasn’t been heard from. We find out that although Sam’s father does have a history of disappearing–it’s only for a few days at the most; he’s never been gone this long before. Sam’s mother was killed in a car accident three years earlier, so due to the length of his father’s absence Sam is staying with his grandparents.
Understandably preoccupied with worry about his father’s whereabouts and whether or not he will return, Sam retuns to their temporarily empty home. In searching for some clue as to where and why his father has disappeared Sam discovers a large, oddly-shaped stone with the image of a sun carved into it. Sam describes it as looking like a “Paleolithic peanut dispenser.” When Sam fits a small coin with a hole in its center into the stone he is transported through time to a monastery on the island of Iona in the Middle Ages.
Sam helps to save several valuable illuminated manuscripts at the monastery before he is transported by the stone to a battlefield in World War I. In the World War I setting he helps to rescue a fallen soldier before being transported a third time to a tomb-building site in ancient Egypt. It is in Egypt that Sam encounters a priest who informs Sam that he was told by his father of Sam’s imminent arrival. Confused but encouraged by this new information Sam finds himself transported back to the basement of the home he shares with his father. His cousin Lily is there, having come to look for him. The two cousins decide to tackle the mystery of the stone and its time travel abilities and what it has to do with the disappearance of Sam’s father.
It is at this point that the story’s pace picks up. Lily’s mother (Sam’s Aunt Evelyn) is dating a man named Rudolf who seems to be inexplicably intent on punishing Sam and portraying him as a juvenile delinquent. Sam’s grandparents reveal details from his father’s past that lead Sam to believe his father’s disappearances (including the current one) are a result of traveling through time with the mysterious stone.
Sam and Lilly begin to suspect that Sam’s father is trapped somewhere in time. Sam, of course, feels he must rescue his father. His first attempt to do so results in a dangerous encounter with an evil constable-cum-alchemist in late fourteenth/early fifteenth century Bruges. When Sam returns from this untimely misdirection Lily has discovered a message from his father, sent through time in the pages of a library book entitled Bran, Dracula’s Castle: on a cell wall six centuries earlier are the etched words: HELP ME SAM.
This is where the book ends. As a reader I was disappointed and frustrated. I felt as though the author had wasted a lot of time taking me to places and times that didn’t really have anything to do with the main storyline, just to leave me hanging and needing to find a SECOND book to finish what I had started with THIS book. There is also a secondary plot about Sam and a bully named Monk and aKarate-Kid-like judo competition–which, again, seems unrelated to the main events of the story.
Unless you plan from the beginnig to read the next book, I would not recommend The Book of Time because, in my opinion, it does not stand well on its own. There are far too many details and events that do not make sense in the context of the main plot: the character of Rudolf, three out of four of Sam’s time travel adventures and the whole bully/judo thing. Having not yet read the second book–where all these things may make some sense–I find The Book of Time to be a deeply dissatisfying read.