Caroline Lawrence takes readers on another action-packed excursion into the ancient world, to be precise Athens in the time of Socrates. Her two heroes, Alex and his friend Dinu, have already time travelled back to Roman London on behalf of and thanks to ‘mad bazillionnaire’, Solomon Daisy. Now, Solomon is offering them £10,000,000 each and, just as important, fame in one of his computer games, to time travel again and discover what Socrates was really like. Of course they accept – what 14 year old wouldn’t? – and before you can say ‘Alay-thay leg-ace, O Soak-rah-tace’, it’s the 380sBC and the two are spluttering in the shallow pool in front of the giant statue of Athena in the Parthenon. To their shock though, Dinu’s little sister Crina has followed them through the time-travel doorway. The three are immediately split up, Alex and Dinu dragged off by the Scythian temple guards, but just as quickly rescued by Alcibiades, that great Athenian hero/villain, and a man who understands the appeal of fame for its own sake as well as any 21st century reality TV star.
Lawrence does a superb job, bringing 4th century BC Athens to life in all its glory, a city where philosophers were as famous as popstars today, while not letting up on the less agreeable aspects – public hygiene, slavery, lice. The three young people do meet Socrates, and he’s everything Solomon Daisy hoped – brilliant, inspiring, heroic, singular. It’s testament not just to Lawrence’s knowledge and passion for her subject, but to her ability as a storyteller, that everyone reading the book will feel familiar with the great man too and keen to read more about his life and philosophy. Time travel adventure doesn’t come better than this, not just bringing the past to life but actively sending readers off in search of it themselves.