Children born on the 29th February are special beings indeed. These Leap Year babies, known as leaplings, have beaten odds of 1 in 1,461 and arrived in calendric style. So consider then how eye-poppingly special Elle, the heroine of this tale, must be, for not only is she a leapling, but she has been born with The Gift, the ability to leap through time. Unfortunately, it appears that no corner of our Space-time continuum remains free from villainy and in The Infinite by Patience Agbabi, we join Elle as a school trip propels her into a truly epic crime-fighting adventure.
If only my own school trips had been this eventful. No mooching about the London Transport Museum for Elle. As part of an elite group of leaplings with The Gift, Elle is party to classified information, and as such her school trip involves a leap in time to the year 2048 and a residential course at the Time Squad Centre, a place where crime-busters foil illicit attempts to manipulate time.
Consider the possibilities of chronology crime. You could, for example, murder someone in 2020 and hide the body in 1960. Or ferry valuable items across from 1820 and auction them as antiques to make your fortune. There are many ingenious possibilities but the crime that confronts Elle is much more serious than the odd pilfered carriage clock. A mysterious SOS text, disappearing leaplings, and the most dastardly type of black marketeer keep her hands full in this exuberant and inventive novel.
For me, the plot occasionally befuddles and goes off the boil but this is compensated for by the sparkling characterisation of Elle, who just dances off the page in a chatty stream of consciousness style. She happens to be autistic, as Agbabi wanted to inspire readers with a strong autistic heroine, and this, her first children’s novel, is refreshingly neurodiverse. Bursting with sci-fi ideas, The Infinite is the first in what promises to be a truly original series.
The Infinite by Patience Agbabi is published by Canongate, 256 pages.