I first read Invictus by Ryan Graudin in February 2018, and this review was originally posted on my Goodreads account then. Some minor edits have been made to this review.
This book was enjoyable! Plenty of other reviews have already compared it to Firefly-with-Doctor-Who-elements, so I won’t spend too much time doing the same. I’ll just say those other reviewers are pretty much right; that’s what Invictus is for the most part.
Overall, the plot was fun, the characters were charmingly quirky, and the time travel was pretty great. I love history (especially Roman history, of which there was plenty) and the idea of time travel, so I was already primed to like this book. Parts leading up to the conclusion of the story were a little confusing, but in the end things felt well resolved.
However, I feel that Graudin could have been better about describing settings, particularly the time machine itself. I never got a clear mental image of what that ship looked like, and it’s such a major part of the story I felt a little deprived. Other aspects could also have been a little more fleshed out as well, such as character development (definitely there, but there could have been more).
On another note, I will say I was pleasantly surprised by the use of romance in this book. So many young adult novels rely so heavily on romance (in particular love triangles) to drive the plot that it almost supersedes any other conflict. Personally, romance feels overused and often a lazy way to make drama for the protagonist(s). That said, Invictus‘s use of romance was different. For the majority of the book, Graudin writes the (main) romance as already past the crush stage, even past the honeymoon stage of a new couple. Priya and Far have been together for about a year, and their relationship feels realistic and — even better — healthy. And best of all, there is not a hint of a love triangle anywhere! And while Priya and Far’s love for each other does have great motivating qualities, especially toward the end, this plot is still very much about saving the whole world. It made me root for that couple more. It was a refreshing thing, to read a story — a YA story no less — that handled romance this way. This book is more about identity than anything else, and certainly not which boy a girl will choose to be with.
Also, it is clear to me after reading this that Graudin is a skilled writer. Her style is interesting, rather poetic at times, and some of her metaphors are quite lovely. She sounds more experienced than other writers of this genre, as if she has found her voice and knows how to use it.
In the end, Invictus — while not a perfect book, suffering from underdeveloped characters and settings — had an exciting plot, some enjoyable characters, a great premise, cool twists, and some pretty deft writing. If you like sci-fi and want a good bit of entertainment, I’d recommend this!
Overall rating: 8/10
Have you read Invictus? What did you think? If you haven’t read it, what’s your favorite time travel story?