Time travel in fantasy is now such a cliche that it's a bit hard to write anything original about it. But John Bellairs managed. "Trolley to Yesterday" has a bunch of intriguing twists and unexpected events, and while it doesn't have as much supernatural content, it still is an enjoyable read.
Professor Childermass is acting even more oddly than usual, which is saying something. When Fergie and Johnny try to investigate his weird behavior (including sand on his carpet and talking to himself), they find the professor having a conversation with Brewster, a magical Egyptian statue. He admits his secret: Behind a bricked-up wall is a time-travelling trolley. And the boys hitch a ride when Childermass travels back in time to save the city of Constantinople from invasion.
The problem? They arrive a little too late, and the city is being overrun by Turkish soldiers. As they struggle to make their way back to the trolley and the safety of the future, they encounter the trolley's creator (who accidently got left behind during one of its previous excursions), a deranged monk, and a group of ghostly Crusaders. But then Johnny is poisoned, and the only cure means going back to Constantinople -- and back into danger.
Usually time travel books are full of cliches, and this one has a few, but you probably won't notice them. Kids who read this book may become interested in the Byzantine Empire -- while Bellairs doesn't present huge amounts of historical detail, he gives enough to be very, very interesting. (There's also a dash of Egyptian stuff too) There's adventure, humor and the odd way of getting around.
Johnny and Fergie remain the surprisingly courageous duo of previous books, the shy boy and his brasher, jokier pal. Professor Childermass is crusty, sometimes a bit irrational, but very lovable. And Brewster (a deity of Upper and Lower Egypt) really steals the show with his dry little comments. .
This book proably has one of the lowest amounts of supernatural stuff of Bellairs' books. Certainly it doesn't have much in the way of horror. But there is a great twist about halfway through, where our heroes are aided by a group of ghostly Crusaders, who are trying to make amends for sacking the city centuries before. I suppose Brewster technically counts as supernatural, and he provides a lot of the humor (such as translating a Turkish soldier's words as "Butter and eggs, and a pound of cheese!").
"Trolley To Yesterday" isn't Bellairs' best novel, but it is an intriguing and informative historical book that adults may enjoy as well, especially if they're Byzantine buffs. Good fun.