It’s 2009 and 19-year-old college student Jackson Meyer can jump through time. His abilities aren’t quite as impressive as they might sound to begin with: He can only make short trips into the recent past and he can’t poke around and change history. When two armed men break into his apartment in an attempt to kidnap him, his girlfriend Holly is shot and panicked Jackson instinctively jumps into the past, but without control of his abilities, he ends up stuck in 2007.
Stranded in a time he doesn’t belong, he finds himself beginning his relationship all over again with younger Holly while trying to hone his powers enough to leap back to the present and save the future her. With a shady government agency desperate to harness his gift for their own means and the sinister time-travellers behind Holly’s shooting following him into the past, Jackson’s life becomes more dangerous than he ever thought possible as he struggles to save the girl he loves.
After the success of the Twilight books, young adult fiction has become a potential cash cow for movie studios looking to option the ‘next big thing’ franchise. With a huge marketing push and promo ads airing on UK TV (quite a rarity for books over here), it’s no surprise that Tempest is being groomed for movie success, too, with YA film factory Summit Entertainment optioning the rights. Unfortunately, though, Tempest often feels like a book awkwardly written with a movie adaptation in mind, with franchise-friendly tropes, subplots and mysteries shoe-horned in to fuel future books/films. It’s a shame, because those clunky, underwritten elements aside, Julie Cross’ debut novel is a fast-paced and entertaining romantic adventure with surprisingly likeable, well-written lead characters.
It’s incredibly refreshing to see a realistic, well fleshed out guy character at the centre of a young adult novel, which makes a nice change from the usual clichéd dark, broody, borderline abusive bad boys or bland, perfect Prince Charming caricatures who’re usually the male lead. Time-travelley protagonist Jackson Meyer proves to be a likeable, believable character; he’s intelligent and good natured, but occasionally self-involved and short-sighted, which helps make him and the relationship at the centre of the story feel realistically flawed and rather engrossing one. The same is true of love interest Holly, and while she’s not given quite the same amount of character development as Jackson, she’s a cute, strong-willed and well-written character, and their enjoyable dialogue flows naturally and believably.
The major problem is that it often seems like Cross is putting together a supernatural trilogy just because that’s what’s popular and expected of YA authors now (unsurprisingly, Tempest already had a movie adaptation in the works even before the book hit shelves), and the story and writing are far more natural, entertaining and impressive when the book focuses on the real-world relationship drama than the other-worldly sci-fi elements. She crafts believable lead characters and an engaging romance, with both Jackson and Holly being likeable, realistic characters, and their relationship and the dialogue that propels it is natural, sweet and often funny.
Unfortunately, when the book steps outside the lines of that simple, down-to-earth romance, it feels like Cross gets bored and rushes through the convoluted sci-fi elements as quickly as possible with the least amount of effort to get back to the relationship drama. The natural, realistic dialogue that drives the central relationship vanishes whenever the story has to focus on its big mysteries and time travel elements, where every bit of new information about Jackson’s abilities are clumsy thrown at us with lazy exposition and major, life-changing secrets about his past are just blurted out in stilted ‘Oh, and by the way, you also have this power now, and you’re also adopted, see ya!’ fashion by his father or doctor.
It’s a problem that’s even more noticeable when you throw in the rather rote, generic elements of the time travel story as it feels like Cross is just ticking off boxes on a checklist of familiar tropes. Jackson naturally has a teen hacker sidekick who can hack into any government system with zero effort, there’s a shifty government agency on the trail of those with special abilities and there’s an ages-old race of evil time-hoppers dubbed ‘The Enemies of Time’ (or EOT for short) out to destroy the world. If you’ve ever read/seen teleportation YA book/movie adaptation Jumper, the entirety of Tempest will give you a huge sense of deja-vu, and far too much of the sci-fi story is an unfortunate mixture of convoluted, clumsy and derivative.
But even amidst the often clunky and potentially confusing sci-fi elements, Cross crafts some engaging action scenes. The bursts of violent energy that pop up as Jackson learns some Bourne Identity-style martial arts and puts his powers to use are fairly gripping and Cross writes action in a simple, dynamic and easy-to-follow way which helps keep the pace as propulsive as the action. She also throws in some interesting ideas when toying with time travel: Jackson can perform half-jumps, where his actions in the past have no consequence and part of him stays rooted in the present, as well as full leaps, where he propels himself through time completely, able to change things. Unfortunately those ideas aren’t always used to their full potential, but it’s a unique mechanic all the same and sows the seed to hopefully be used to better effect in later books.
Tempest is a fast, action-packed, breezy read, and a largely enjoyable one, with a sweet, natural core romance and charming, well-written leads. Sadly, its sci-fi elements give way to plenty of clumsy, unnatural dialogue, paper thin supporting characters and convoluted, derivative chunks of plot. It’s an entertaining read, and one which you’ll fly through in no time, but it’s a shame that Cross doesn’t put as much heart and effort into the larger sci-fi plot and characters than she does the comparatively more engaging love story elements.
‘Tempest’ by Julie Cross is available to buy now.
Click here to order the book from Amazon.co.uk