A Switch in Time (ASIT) is a ‘switch’ in lifestyle for two siblings, who swap with another two. We see through the eyes of 19th century coal barge workers John and Alice, how strange our modern world really is to the average Victorian young person: a world of motorised vehicles, mobile phones, global warming; and of noises, people, and futuristic buildings. It’s a time of great opportunity, but gross inequality and I think inequality is the main message in ASIT.
Much of ASIT is about spoilt, wealthy, and hateful Alicia who treats people ‘beneath her’ like dirt in modern times. She is chosen to leave these times with her brother Jamie, perhaps so she can see the value of a proper day’s work, doing as she is told, getting her fingers dirty, and of being in a loving family. She must live on the coal barge vacated by John and Alice.
Some of the values author John Paul Bernett shares include the benefits of being poor, of having more love for people than possessions, valuing hard work above reward, and respecting other people. These themes fit in nicely with the Victorian setting, where it brings forward the toil, suffering, and hardship. It’s not a Victorian novel that conforms to modern times and attitudes, and I think that’s the point.
If I thought anything could be improved in ASIT, I thought the inclusion of some scenes that related to the author’s Reaper series stuck out and didn’t conform to the general feel of the story, in my opinion. These scenes were very few. I feel the same about how some elements of the story concluded in the last chapter.
One of the things I liked best about A Switch in Time was the level of research and care taken into giving it that Victorian feel, with steam engines, barges, coal, museums, and canals. Note that my words do not do the author justice in the last sentence. Many of the locations were set in Leeds, such as Armley Mills, where I’ve been fortunate to have seen the author at steampunk events and I know and trust that he knows his steampunk as much as his horror. This is why he’s the best person to have written A Switch in Time.