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4.6 out of 5 stars17
4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 20 January 2004
...which is difficult to say, because all her works are classic, no exceptions.
1) The writing style. When you pick up a book by Jones, you can tell without needing to glance at the author's name. Witty is an understatement. All her books have subtle and not-so-subtle jokes woven into every paragraph, while at the same time writing books that are sensitive and dark.
2) The characters. Jones' most memorable characters are those like Howl from 'Howl's Moving Castle' and Jonathan from this book (Time City). Both are arrogant and smart, and abitious to boot. Jonathan, however, is not the foppish pretty-boy that Howl is. He is very much like that smart kid that is positively certain that he is the smartest, and may well be. He, like Howl, also has very real faults, but in a different sense. While Howl is liable to be messy and spend hours in the bathroom, Jonathan does things much more recognizable: chew on his hair (which may not be recognizable for boys necessarily, but it still hits home with a lot of readers), doubt people, and jump headfirst into things without thinking.
Vivian, the female protagonist, is also imperfect, but also acts as an anchor for Jonathan and Sam (Jonathan's younger cousin)'s outlandish ways. Just like us, she blushes when Jonathan sees her Liberty bodice, she itches in wool sweaters, and she sweats and feels dirty and hot and uncomfortable. She is like the anti-Jonathan, per se. While he is overconfident, she is somewhat self-concious and uncertain. The whole thing balances the book greatly, but still manages to be quite madcap in the same instant.
But it takes all three heroes/heroines to come out victorious over the rolicking, complex plot and all the stakes Jones sets up for them. But don't worry, they're up to it-- so I'd definitly recommend this book, which could most certainly be called a modern classic, to anyone who loves to devour a book with rich, realistic characters (despite the fact that some of them aren't entirely human--can you say 'android'?) a wonderfully complicated storyline, and general spunk and ingenuity.
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Diana Wynne Jones returns to her favourite themes of time travel and alternate histories in this book. I don't know of any other childrens' author who is so adept at communicating very complicated ideas about time and the effects of time travel and as always, I'm in awe of her world-building skills. Time City has a terminology and set up all of its own and whilst some of the terminology is a little complicated (given that this book is aimed at 8 year olds upwards), it's amazingly easy to get used to - mainly because of the sheer confidence and skill that Jones has with her writing.

And yet for all this, I just didn't find myself loving the book as much as I have her other works. There are two reasons for this:

1. At no point do I emphasise with Vivian or her plight. For someone who has been wrenched from her time, away from her parents and everything she knows, she's remarkably un-upset. Also, the reasons for Jonathan and Sam effectively kidnapping her are a little contrived and don't really make sense once you get to the end of the book and look back on it; and

2. You have no sense of who the bad guys are in this book until right at the end. Put it simply, it's too late. By the time their identity is revealed, the plot's too far gone for you to care about their motivation (which comes in an expositional paragraph) and this really robs the plot of a lot of the mystery that it needs.

Characterisations are also pretty bland and by-the-numbers. Just as I don't feel any empathy for Vivian, nor do I feel anything for Sam or Jonathan either - in fact, the two boys rapidly became an irritation as Jones makes them both manage to be smug. Elio and the Sempiturn do begin to make up for this (although both need more development) and in fact, the only character who worked for me was Dr Wilander (who reminded me of the gruff characters in Jones' other books).

There are some wonderful ideas in this book - the Time Ghosts were particularly intriguing and the idea of the Guardians had a lot of potential. I really think though that the book needed to stew a little more before being released because ultimately, it's not very fulfilling.
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on 4 August 2000
When Vivian gets dragged out of the 20th century to a weird and futuristic world, where people dress in "pyjamas" and eat out of machines, instead of the country she start to feel a little more homesick than she was expecting..... The book shows courage,love,hate and strength with twists and turns to make you end up feeling dizzy!
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on 14 July 2013
I agree with some other reviewers here that the characters in this story are under-developed. Vivien is quite likeable and fairly well-delineated, but she reacts in a way that is much less emotional than you'd expect from a child who is suddenly dragged from a rural railway station in a village where she is being evacuated in 1939 to a crumbling city outside time, by two irritating boys, for no really convincing reason that I could see. Jonathon and Sam are both slightly tedious, I thought, though I felt Sam came alive more than Jonathon.

I loved Elio and I thought Sempiturn Walker was a good creation though I got very bored with the long descriptions of his running about in a panic before every ceremony. Though Vivian finds this hysterically funny, it just didn't seem very funny to me - not after the first time, anyway. But this might be because I'm not a child myself.

As with all Wynne Jones's books, this is highly imaginative and original, and I thought the guardians were fabulous inventions - I also liked the way the villains turned out to be who they were as I wasn't expecting it. I like the way Jones is unafraid to present some children as hideous and cruel rather than as all brave and good, and I like the way she doesn't always dismiss adults, like some children's books do, but presents children and adults as equally likely to be good, bad and complex. I thought, as with some of her other books, that the story was padded out slightly around 80% of the way in, in order to make it longer, but the final climactic stretch was pretty well-paced, I thought.

The plot is convoluted and unusual, and there is the trademark sly humour, but this novel didn't involve me as much as some of her others have, and didn't create quite the atmosphere I've come to expect from Wynne Jones. But nevertheless, if you're a fan, you'll enjoy it.
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on 15 January 1999
Of course, my daughter is now 21 yrs old. So, you might think things have changed. Not so! On a recent visit home from college, Ivy asked if I knew whatever happened to this book. I brought it home from the office (where I keep all my valuables) that very night. She had her nose in it for two days! Guess what? It is STILL a wonderful book! While this book involves time, there is also a major mythological aspect as well. Excellent! You will enjoy.
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Time travel is every person's fantasy at one point or another... but in "A Tale of Time City," it really isn't nearly as fun as you would expect. Diana Wynne-Jones spins up an elaborate, wryly humorous scifi/fantasy where it turns out that time travel is a bit more complex than anyone expected, with plenty of memorable characters and weird time periods.

It's London, 1939, and the Blitz is looming over London. Vivian Smith is leaving to stay in the country with a cousin, only to be dragged into another world by a strange boy. His name is Jonathan Lee and his younger cousin Sam is helping him. They think that she is the extremely important Time Lady, who is the only one who can wake Time City's founder, Faber John.

Time City, where Jonathan and Sam live, is a futuristic civilization existing outside of time, and observing it closely. And grabbing a person from an unstable era such as "Twenty Century" is a serious offense -- both for them and for Vivian.

The boys hastily disguise her as their cousin Vivian. Jonathan's family welcomes Vivian with open arms, but she still has to get used to a strange world filled with invisible furniture, androids -- and a future timeline for Earth that boggles the mind. But Time City itself is in danger. The timekeeping "polarities" are being stolen, and Faber John's stone is cracking and crumbling. The only ones who can save the City are the three children.

"A Tale of Time City" is a complex story -- sometimes too much, since all the time-hopping, weird eras and secondary characters get rather confusing for the reader. However, it's the GOOD kind of "complex," with constant twists and mysteries interwoven into a simple sci-fantasy story, set in a futuristic city that is anchored OUTSIDE time itself.

Jones sculpts a plausible timekeeping civilization, with all sorts of weird details that Vivian has to accustom herself to (strange foods, robots, clothing, customs). She unfolds the plot gradually like a scroll, revealing surprises embedded in the surface as it rolls out, but with plenty of kooky humor and wry dialogue (the "hunt the slipper!" scene).

Vivian is a likable protagonist in the classic British kids' lit mold -- a plucky preteen with plenty of guts and an iron spine, sort of like a modernized version of a C.S. Lewis heroine (and one suspects that the opening scenes were a homage to Lewis). Jonathan is a likable if sometimes bumbling kid with an earnest desire to help Time City, and Elio is a pleasant "good android" sidekick for them. Sam's obsession with pies gets a bit annoying, though.

Out of Diana Wynne-Jones' colorful bibliography, "A Tale of Time City" is one of her most underrated stories -- a clever, witty sci-fantasy with plenty of twists.
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on 29 January 2016
i love this book. the chrecter development is really good, and it had some good humour. i love all DWJ books but this one is my favourite and i highly recommend it.
This story is about a girl caled Vivian from WW2 who suddenly gets whisked away to a pace out of time and outside of time! There are so many parts to this story yet it all stays crystal clear. And like all DWJ stories there is a mystery to work out.

Definatly five star
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on 3 June 2014
I read this as a kid and still loved on re-reading it as an adult. Like lots of Jones' stories, this pits competent and smart kids against seemingly insoluble problems while their parents are distracted by other things. The timey-wimey stuff is beautifully developed and the different cultures entertainingly sketched. Just wonderful.
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on 22 May 2003
Diana Wynne Jones never misses a beat, but I particularly enjoyed this one for the 2nd World War overlap. All her usual themes in force - multiple universes, overlapping time, instability threatening the balance of everything. Fab!
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on 24 April 2014
Bought for 15 year old boy, really into science fiction dystopias and utopias. An engaging, thought provoking and very well written book. Highly recommended.
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