Struggling to care for his severely depressed mother, whose illness has meant their downward slide into extreme poverty, Owen must also cope with the whispers and knowing looks of people in the village. “Like father like son. He’ll go the same way,” the neighbours say, not very comforting or supportive when those same neighbours state that his father committed suicide. So Owen avoids the village and its inhabitants, preferring, instead, to roam the fields and woods near the rundown old house he shares with his mother, rambling along the riverbanks where an abandoned stone Workhouse stands, sneaking into Johnson’s scrap yard to look for treasure, and camping out in the Den, his secret retreat, a room dug into the hillside and furnished with cast-off furniture.
Then one day, as Owen is making his way home from the Den, he comes upon a strange man dressed in a uniform whose attention is sharply focused upon Johnson’s scrap yard, across the river, where men are busily moving to and fro. Then a white-cloaked figure appears amid the piles of scrap metal, and provokes a sudden and violent reaction in the uniformed stranger. “The Harsh!” exclaims the man, and the air seems to resound with the sound of a voice crying out in anger and triumph, and with that outburst, Owen’s life changes, possibly forever.
The stranger, whom Owen soon learns is called the Sub-Commandant, turns to find the boy, clearly recognizes him, though Owen is certain they have never met, and leads him along the riverbank toward the Workhouse. The old building, which has lain empty for all long as Owen can remember, is suddenly swarming with people, all in uniform, and all intent upon their assigned tasks. Some are building defences along the riverbank, others are preparing food, and still others are making ready to unfurl a large tower from the bowels of the Workhouse, a tower that soon rises storeys about the stone building, and from which observers can see for miles in all directions.
Owen is introduced to Cati, a girl of about his age, and learns that she, her father, the Sub-Commandant, and all of the other people who have abruptly appeared are Resisters, defenders of humans and the civilization they have created. Awakened from their sleep by the reappearance of their, and humankind’s, enemy, the Harsh, the Resisters make ready to fight off its attempt to end human existence on Earth by reversing time until the point before which humans evolved, something they have done countless times over the centuries. From their beds in the Starry, a vast secret underground dormitory, the Resisters rise and take their positions upon the riverbanks, and watch for signs of enemy movement across the river in Johnson’s scrap yard.
What Owen’s place in this battle is, he isn’t certain, and, judging from the arguments his presence incites among the leaders of the Resisters, neither are they. Some of the resisters believe that he has an important role to play in the upcoming battle; others suspect that he is a traitor and a spy. Confused by the reactions he provokes among the resisters and reeling from the revelation that the village, its inhabitants, and his mother, are gone, because, with the reversal of time they have, quite simply, never existed, Owen sneaks out of the Resisters’ camp and across the river, looking for some sign of his home and family.
When Cati follows him, and the two are nearly captured by the Harsh, suspicions about him multiply, but Owen begins to realize that he may, in fact, possess information that will help the Resisters push back the Harsh, information left to him by his dead father.
The Navigator is a fast-paced fantasy that will appear to students from Grade 5. Reminiscent of Kenneth Oppel’s Airborn and Skybreaker, and Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series, it is an exciting blend of science fiction and fantasy. I can’t wait for the sequel!