I cover Portal 24, Meredith Stroud’s young adult science fiction novel dealing with time travel, and published by Hot Key Books.
When teen con-artist Darius is approached by a mysterious government agent about joining a 'Project Oberon', he has no idea what to expect. Certainly not that Project Oberon is actually a top-secret experiment which sends teens back through time to prevent disasters before they happen! Before Darius has time to wonder why he's been chosen, his first mission arrives in the form of a huge electromagnetic weapon of mass destruction, which will kill millions of people in New York - unless Darius and the team can stop it. They're confident; it's all in a day's work for these teen wonders, but what they don't bet on is evil mastermind Ludd. And what they don't know is that Ludd knows the deadly secret behind Project Oberon. If Darius and the gang don't make it back to the portal within twenty-four hours, then they'll be lost in time forever...
I saw this one crop up on NetGalley recently and it looked like it could be a fun, quick read, because I’m a sucker for some good YA SciFi and my previous experiences with time travel-related stuff in general recently have all been positive, like The Fifty-Seven Lives of Alex Wayfare, The Fifteen Lives of Harry August and even the SyFy TV series 12 Monkeys has started off strongly. Unfortunately, Portal 24, is not one of those books that will be added to the list, as it turned out to be fairly underwhelming and quickly forgettable.
Darius Simms is the main protagonist, a con-artist who was approached by a Government Agent who told him that his girlfriend would die not long after. It isn’t long before one thing leads to the next, and Darius finds himself plunged into the field as a backup agent whose job, along with a group of fellow teens, is to stop disasters from happening. Kind of like Person Of interest, only with time travel rather than the Machine. However, he soon finds out that his first assignment is a pretty big one, with less than 24 hours before the destruction of New York City (because it’s always New York City).
The characters were fun and could just about make this book worth checking out, but none of them really stay long in your memory and could easily be found in another young adult book similar to this. You’ve got Bianca, the main female protagonist who knows her stuff when it comes to fighting and dishing out commands, Leon, who doubles as the team’s medic and hacker, and Malik, the team’s sniper. They make an interesting bunch but given the fact that the book is quite short, it doesn’t really develop them and you’ll struggle to remember even the main protagonist, Darius, a few days after reading the book itself.
That’s in part because the book speeds by so quickly. It will constantly have you flicking through the pages determined to get to the end, but whilst it may be fast paced, it doesn’t really have much depth to it. In short, it’s a summer blockbuster movie. Fun on the surface, but there are plenty of problems that come when you go back and start to pick Portal 24 apart.
Despite the fact that the book may be quite short, it could have been even shorter. There’s plenty of stuff that doesn’t really add much to the story as a whole and it ends up feeling wasted. Darius doesn’t really feel developed enough for us to care about him and neither do the rest of the cast, with him and Bianca being the two that have the most attention and the others seemed to be tacked on just to play certain roles in the book.
There’s so many standard moments that you’d find in any other young adult thriller – the ‘good guy’ con artist, the badass female character who falls in love with the main one pretty much instantly, and the unoriginal plot doesn’t really do this novel justice. Yes, it is entertaining and you won’t be bored whilst reading it, but there isn’t really enough there to make it stand out. It’s something that’s best for a quick read and nothing more, and sadly, something that I can’t really recommend.