Review originally posted at Views From the Tesseract: https://shanshad1.wordpress.com/2015/... Folks, there are books, that even if you can't judge theReview originally posted at Views From the Tesseract: https://shanshad1.wordpress.com/2015/... Folks, there are books, that even if you can't judge them by their cover, they give you some huge smacking clues about what's in the book. Like steampunk? Like dragons? Like steampunk dragons? Then by golly, I think this may well be your thing! Methinks the cool cover is bound to interest a lot of readers all on its own, but now let's take a look at the story.
Welcome to Cove, a steam-powered city built inside a mountain. Trenton Coleman is a kid living in this city, where invention is forbidden and creativity discouraged. But he can't help but want to tinker with things, to think of improvements that would make machines work better or faster or safer. He curious and gifted with a knack for invention. . . and that can lead to trouble. When Trenton discovers an unapproved item in the mines--something unlike anything he's ever seen, rather than turn it in or destroy it immediately, he keeps it. He's not sure what it does, but he's curious enough to want to figure it out. Kallista Babbage is the daughter of one of the most infamous men in Cove. Her father, Leo Babbage was a mechanic and an inventor who died in an explosion that the City blamed him for. But he left behind a set of clues for his daughter to follow--only Trenton has the very first piece. To solve her father's riddles and discover the answers he left behind, she'll need Trenton's help. Together, the two of them will explore the levels of Cove and find out what secrets Cove is guarding, and what her father ultimately built.
I admit, the cover is a bit of a spoiler straight out. Because the entire first few chapters, you're thinking "when is the dragon going to come into this?" Readers will quickly figure out that the cylinders Kallista and Trenton are assembling into a claw must be part of the dragon from the cover. Our heroes don't know this yet, of course. (They speculate Leo Babbage was building a giant chicken). However, this is hardly the kind of spoiler that ruins the enjoyment of reading the story. I found the dystopian setting combined with a scavenger hunt for clues and pieces really worked well. The author doesn't simply create an oppressive city for a background setting, but as a real interactive character in the whole book. The propaganda and control that the central government has over the populace is pretty firm, so that Trenton's flouting of the rules to hunt for pieces and clues puts him always at risk of being found out and in trouble for it. Still, the overall world is not one of grim oppression and unhappiness--there's room here for fun and hope that is in no way sinister. I found the story felt "old-school" to me, but in a good way. I read any number of stories back as a kid where youngsters are pushing against rules in their home place, seeking to discover the truths that have been hidden. This is lively, interesting and makes you want to keep turning pages to see how things will play out. What the characters ultimately discover about Cove and the truth behind it's founding threw me a little. My mind had been treating this as a rather strictly science fiction story, but the final discoveries in the book led me to reconsider that. I won't give things away here, but I did not predict what our protagonists discovered.
The author's strength's are in creating engaging characters that the reader wants to follow and root for. Trenton is an easily sympathetic fellow, even if he can be less than considerate much of the time. At thirteen, what kid is an angel? His frustration at his skills for mechanical things being stymied when he's assigned to farming is palpable. The fact that his mother doesn't want him working with machines and that at times Trenton doesn't realize how smart his father really is makes his parents seem real--not just cut out stereotypes. The tension between Trenton and his mother is quite possibly one of the things that is most significant in this story. So often parents are one dimensional, but here we see Trenton's mom as someone who has been traumatized, and it's colored her view of the world. She cares about her son, but can't accept his ambitions when they mean he will be at risk.
Kallista is a strong, smart and capable girl who is equally likable despite her temper and distrust. She's lonely, and though she rebuffs Trenton at times, she ultimately realizes she enjoys spending time with him. Both of our protagonists are gifted mechanics who know their way around tools--this is delightful to see, especially for Kallista. My only real complaint in the character area may be that I found the romantic interactions and motivations a little too cliched for my taste. Trenton's looking to impress a girl at the opening of the story. Later on, after he meets Kallista he becomes so involved in their project that he is literally clueless to every hint dropped by the same girl that she likes him. She practically has to hit him over the head to clue him in. Meanwhile, he's becoming wrapped up in feelings for Kallista--creating a love triangle situation that ultimately leads to trouble. Of all the types of relationships, falling back on this one felt out of place in such a fresh and exciting story.
I think this is an excellent steampunk urban fantasy/science fiction tale. It's a marvelous mix of the genres without apology for jumping between them. It's an ideal middle grade read that should appeal to a wide range of readers, and likely introduce them to some genre concepts they haven't encountered before. I'm looking forward to reading the next installment in the Mysteries of Cove series.
Note: An advanced copy was provided by the publisher. ...more
The last time I encountered a story that used the legend of Prince Madoc as inspiration for the story, it was A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle. Apparently, it was a popular legend in the Colonial days. The story goes that long before Columbus ”discovered” America, a Welsh prince came to the shores of North America with some of his people. Rumors of Native Americans speaking Welsh and a lost kingdom of Welshmen fueled all sorts of searches and offers of reward for their discovery. Though in our reality, nothing ever came of the wild story, writers have taken the threads of the legend to inspire their own fantastic stories. Matthew J. Kirby takes his readers into a an alternate Colonial America where the threat of the French and Indian war is looming and a remarkable group of men have devised a plan . . .
Billy Bartram is about to undertake the adventure of a lifetime. His father, naturalist John Bertram and the renowned Benjamin Franklin are anxious that the French are ready to make their move and threaten the British colonies. In order to get the jump on the French and try and secure allies against the threat, a singular group of men from the Philosopher’s Society will embark on a flying ship in search of a legend. Billy can scarcely believe his luck at being included in the mission as his father’s assistant, but things don’t go quite as imagined for the intrepid explorers. Dangerous wildlife, violent storms and the whims of the crew make a risky journey into a deadly one, while the French are closing in. Kirby’s story is one of adventure, myth and fantasy woven into the backdrop of actual history.
Kirby isn’t shy about rewriting whole parts of the U.S. history for this story. While we meet characters of historical context (most notably Ben Franklin and Washington) many of the inventions and the frontier creatures that our explorers meet are not consistent with that historical period. The author has made good use of a variety of myths, from the Philosopher’s Stone, to the Fountain of Youth and paired this with wild legends of a Welsh kingdom in the frontier lands. Kirby’s landscape is reminiscent of the Frontier Magic series by Patricia Wrede, but without the slower pacing, quieter action and extra detail. While the setting is critical to the story and its outcome, the author’s main focus is his characters and the interactions between them.
Billy is our protagonist in this tale, and it is his journey, both physical and emotional, that readers are meant to follow. At the outset of our story, Billy is in utter awe of his father and has no doubt he wants to be like him. But as the journey gets underway, our hero quickly discovers sides to his father that he had not expected . . . and areas where they don’t agree. The changing interaction between Billy and his father is one of the main plot arcs in the novel. Where the alternate history and steampunk styled inventions might not be familiar to middle grade readers, Billy’s struggle to come to grips with who he is and how that differs from his parent will be one most kids can latch on to and identify with in some part. The other crew members on our flying ship are also vividly imagined, and complex individuals with conflicting motives and interests. My one disappointment in the character building has to remain with the single female character that is present in this story. I don’t believe I’m spoiling much by mentioning young Jane, since she’s clearly pictured on the cover of the book. Jane’s character never seems to fully take shape in the story and there is at least one glaring moment where her ineptitude puts the entire mission at risk. It may be I was more bothered by this than a younger reader would be, but my overall feeling is that Jane is used to conveniently forward the plot and give our character a friend of similar age without giving her enough of her own personality.
This book moves forward at a fairly fast clip that keeps us moving from crisis to crisis in fairly short order. While my adult self does tend to prefer a more leisurely pace for storytelling and events, this may work well for younger readers who prefer the constant action. The breathless adventure with its historical fantasy flavor manages to pack quite a punch for such a short book. Obviously there’s more than a little “steampunk” to this story (it’s more good evidence that steampunk has made its way firmly into the middle grade fiction) the flying ship on the cover of the book, the explorations of electricity, the creative weapons and inventions of our philosopher crew. The author clearly feels at home with the genre and is willing to explore it, with quite delightful results. I was thoroughly entertained . Reader’s who enjoyed the Matthew Kirby’s The Clockwork Three (2010) and Icefall (2011) should definitely check this one out....more
If I told you that this was the second book featuring a young person covered in hair and living in a freak show in Victorian England for middle grade readers that I’ve read this year, would you be surprised? It seems Victorian fiction is one of the hot trends for 2013 . It’s a fascinating trend, because most of the stories I’ve read set in these times have either distinct fantasy or steampunk elements used in the storytelling. Of course, this is particularly exciting for me, since it means they then fall under the banner of speculative fiction.
A few years ago if I’d even mentioned steampunk, it would described a fairly small idiosyncratic subgenre of fantasy/science fiction books, mostly written for adults. Outside of Japanese animated movies, you’d find hardly anything that could be labelled steampunk for kids. Then something happened. Some strange alignment of an interest in the Victorian era and a love for all sorts of goggles and steam machines and mechanized top hats began to drift into the young adult genre . . . and now it’s safe to say it has reached the middle grade fiction.
Wild Boy by Rob Lloyd Jones is the story of a young man who was born covered in hair and has spent most of his life being treated like a monster. But the outward appearance of a freak hides the brilliance of a deductive mind that sees and absorbs all the details of the unforgiving world of Victorian England that he inhabits. Living in a freak show surroundings, Wild Boy takes some small pleasure in being able to travel and observe different people and places in the moments when he is not kept inside. When a man from the circus is killed violently and the circumstantial evidence points to Wild Boy, there’s nothing he can say to convince others of his innocence–all they see is the monster. Desperate to escape hanging for a crime he did not commit, he puts his deductive skills to work in ferreting out the real murder. Solving the murder will take him on a path that is very dark indeed, uncovering macabre experiments, dangerous enemies and terrible betrayals. In the end it will be Wild Boy’s mind and heart put to the test in solving this murder mystery!
It’s clear that the author has some love of the works of Arthur Conan Doyle, and this book readily reflects that love. Wild Boy’s observation skills and keen reasoning are reminiscent of the great Sherlock Holmes. Despite his abilities, Wild Boy still has to deal with the fact that others don’t see beyond his outward hairy appearance and a fierce temper that has come with being mistreated his whole life. Underneath the fur and beyond the brilliant mind, Wild Boy is still a boy who is troubled and traumatized and wishes he looked like everyone else. The author does an admirable job of writing this character so that readers can identify with him and become invested in his story.
The setting is pure Victorian London, full of all the atmospheric elements that define the place. The author clearly knows how to tell a historically placed story–readers can believe in the setting and begin to comprehend it without having to have a working knowledge of what London was like at the time. There’s a good balance here between setting the story in place and avoiding too many references or place names that would be alien to younger reader, or one unfamiliar with Victorian times.
While there are plenty of genres at work in this particular novel, the main story arc is the mystery itself. Overall I thought this was well handled, balancing deductive insights with action and danger and leading up to the final revelations. Remember I mentioned steampunk? this book has more than a little steampunk woven into the mystery that is at the center of the story. It moves the book out of the merely historically fantastic and sets it firmly into the ”Victorian science fiction” universe.
I quite enjoyed this read overall. My only real issues are with the fact that Wild Boy’s speech patterns tend to fluctuate. Much of the time he appears to speak a more formal English than that of typical lower class, but every so often there’s some street slang or pattern to his dialog. I’m not certain it’s entirely believable that Wild Boy would speak a more formal style, given that he wouldn’t have had much exposure to it. While I could imagine that he could adopt accents and manners rather easily given his observation abilities, I don’t know if his speaking is consistent with his situation in life. Still, I think it a small thing in an otherwise solid reading experience.
This might spark your interest if you are a fan of Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz, though this focuses on mystery more than horror. Middle grade readers who are interested in the adventures of Sherlock Holmes might also want to check this one out!
So sometimes you just happen to spot a title and a cover and say "hey--that looks interesting." I hadn't heard a thing about this particular fantasy wSo sometimes you just happen to spot a title and a cover and say "hey--that looks interesting." I hadn't heard a thing about this particular fantasy western. I was a tad skeptical that I'd actually like the darn thing--westerns are not my favorite genre by any means. But I decided to give it a try.
Folks, it is hands down the best adult SF/Fantasy work I've read this year. Now, given that it is only January, that's not saying much--but I've read about ten or twelve other novels so far, (and stopped reading a few more) and this is by far my favorite.
What this is: the landscape, the time frame and the storytelling style are all pretty consistent with the western genre. But Buffy meets Torchwood is a pretty good description of the kind of thing you're in for--except this an essentially ensemble cast rather than a single hero or heroine. Golgotha, a small but thriving town in Nevada is the Western version of Buffy's Sunnydale: it attracts all sorts of odd people and creatures, and hides a deep dark secret. The story is full of the dark and violent, spirits, angels and gods. But it's also full of heroism, loyalty, love and the power of the human soul.
I'd have a tough time calling this 'light reading' in that there's a lot of freaky stuff that happens. But it's a fun read. An entertaining read that doesn't telegraph everything and gives readers characters that are a bit more than single note stereotypes and stand-ins for archetypes. This is R.S. Belcher's debut novel--and I can say in all honest truth I will be looking for more from this author. The writing is strong, accessible and appropriate for the story. Other than a few proofreading slips (I can't help it, former editor here) I remain very happy with the overall writing quality. I couldn't put this down, kept wanting to read it and finish it. While I have several series I've read and eagerly wait for the next installment, reading a stand-alone that has me cheerfully waiting through train delays (because it means I get to read more pages) is an accomplishment.
This story won't work for everyone. If you dislike your authors messing with religion and rewriting religious themes, this may get under your skin. If you're not much into horror or western, or the paranormal, sorry--this really won't be your cup of tea. If you're looking for a fun fantasy read in a historical setting that is not paranormal romance, however, this may fit the bill.
I hope others continue to discover this, this author deserves some attention for a great first novel....more
In a world where a cataclysmic event triggered the arrival of the fae in Britain 100s of years prior, the country has done its level best to mitigateIn a world where a cataclysmic event triggered the arrival of the fae in Britain 100s of years prior, the country has done its level best to mitigate the damages of magic after winning the war against the fae folk by introducing mechanical, gear laden technology to their country and putting the fairies and goblins to work in factories, until they become just one more faction of British society. Our main protagonists are a young "changeling" (in this book meaning half fae, half human)boy and a young nobleman who just happens to find himself in a position to discover a plot against Britain and mankind in general.
This is an unusual offering in terms of middle grade fantasy. Steampunk is a fairly rare animal in this age range, as is urban fantasy of this kind. While I've seen many adult urban fantasies that feature some kind of cataclysmic event that have "brought magic back" or exiled the fae to the human world, or something similar, it's not a topic much covered in children's fantasy. I was excited and curious by the opportunity to read this, but after getting through the book, I find myself more than a little disappointed.
Firstly, this has been pegged as a middle grade read. While reading it, I kept questioning whether it really fit the bill for middle grade. The book assumes the reader has some familiarity with Britain and the British ruling system of the time period. It also spends long passages dealing with completely adult characters. Most noteworthy of these is Mr Jelliby, who is described as a bit of an unambitious mild man for whom the idea of becoming a hero is somewhat unpalatable. Yet he steps up to the challenge in this story. I just felt so much of the concerns in the tale were too adult. Not too mature, but just not things that most kids would find relevant. The violence is very gruesome at times, and our villains are not only unrepentant, but disturbingly dour. I think this would take a very high level reader who is a fan of steampunk and urban fantasy to appreciate the story.
Secondly, I still don't feel I know the characters. Our main protagonist, a boy who is half human, half fae. We know so little about him--what are his hopes and dreams? How has he survived all these years, why was he born at all? (Clearly his mother had been willing enough to have children with a fae father twice, but why does that father not live with them or help them?). Even though the boy is out to rescue his sister, we don't know either that well, and at first we really don't see the attachment he has to his sister. The other characters all seem drawn at a distance, we never really get to know any of them except, perhaps, for the rat-fairy. When I read a story it is important that I care enough about the characters to see them through the story events.
Thirdly, there are a lot of unexplained parts of this story that have me tugging at loose threads. How did the first fairy door happen that led to the fae being in Britain and why did it close again? Are the fae only in Britain or are they spread out world wide. Clearly, the fae must have been made citizens, if there are fairies on the council, but it's never made clear when and how this has happened. We don't know much about the culture of fae themselves. Do they live just like humans? Why do some of them seem to have so much magic left and others so little? Why would the government in particular have so little protection against magic working? The descriptions of fairies seems to indicate they really are very inhuman, yet they manage to have children with humans. I find this really odd, and not very well explained. Given the description of many of these creatures, it's difficult to think they could create a child by any means other than intentional magic. And if these children are intentional, why aren't they better cared for and protected in the city?
I don't know, there are a lot of issues I have with this. However, the world building is decent enough, and hopefully the characters can be improved given time in the next book. There is a lot of promise to the writing here and the author clearly has potential and imagination on his side. This book won't appeal to everyone, but may capture the imaginations of a smaller group of fans who will look forward to reading the further adventures of our characters. Certainly it takes a risk and tries something different, which is more than I can say for many fantasy books for children....more
I love it when a book makes me throw out my presuppositions and biases and actually yanks me by the shirt into the story before I know what's happeninI love it when a book makes me throw out my presuppositions and biases and actually yanks me by the shirt into the story before I know what's happening. So I picked this up after I put my last book down and thought "oh, a goblin book. I really don't like goblins . . . and goblin books tend to be full of comic scenes and gross stuff. Sigh."
It's so nice to be knocked on my proverbial butt for making a judgement based on a title. It restores my faith in books and writing.
Goblin Secrets takes place in the city of Zombay, a place strange and oppressive where masks and plays are not allowed and only goblins may perform. A place where gears and mechanical devices combine with magic and curses and witchery. The orphan Rownie lives in this town, running errands for the woman who cares for him and the odd and end other orphans in her home. Until the day he sees the goblins perform a play, and runs away to join them, hoping to find his lost brother and find out who he is. But other forces are chasing him, and a time is coming soon where Rownie will have to act in order to save the city and discover the person he is meant to be.
William Alexander plunges readers into his magical urbanesque environment with no apologies or explanations. It's a tightly told story with suspense and magic and evocative descriptions. The world building is superbly done, painting a unique picture of this landscape. Unlike some stories that take the grand scale fantasy world and give readers a panoramic view, this story remains seated in one city and the rise and fall of that city and its denizens. I'm not certain if Alexander intends to explore this world further, since this book is a satisfying stand-alone, but I'd be happy to dive in if he so decides.
Just marvelous fun, great imagination and something I wasn't expecting--which will keep me humble!...more
Charlie is a mistreated princess locked away in her rooms and all but starved after her mother vanishes and her father loses his mind. But the fierceCharlie is a mistreated princess locked away in her rooms and all but starved after her mother vanishes and her father loses his mind. But the fierce survivor she becomes in those years of isolation, scrounging for food and finding ways to occupy her time isn't going to sit quietly when she discovers a clue as to what happened to her mother. But whom can she trust to help her? Enemies abound in this castle and friends may not always have her best interests at heart. Together with the gardener's assistant, Tobias, Charlie must unravel the mystery and save her kingdom.
To start, let me just say the cover pictured here is a great improvement over the one I have in my possession. The cover here conveys a sense of dark drama and danger, unlike the rather bland and cartoonish cover illustration on my copy. But beyond that, I just found this story unweildy and awkward. There are so many odd things, like why Charlie would be simply neglected for so many years with nothing being done for her. She doesn't act like a princess at all . . . and the way the book conveys the story it felt much more pedestrian than a princess in a castle. There are so many characters and plots going on that it makes it difficult to stay on target, and I never could really get to the point of liking any of the characters all that much. The climax scene at the end was a little too grim for my tastes and left me shaken and uncomfortable even during the "happy" part of the ending. On a purely production level complaint, the font with the extend Q tail was distracting and annoying. It added nothing to the story and kept cropping up since the kingdom is called Quale.
I didn't love it, it's a pedestrian Victorian thriller set in an alternate history country with some steampunk elements thrown in for good measure. While not without its bright spots, I just couldn't really get behind the story....more
Couldn't get into this. found the plot too cliche and predictable to grab me and the writing really didn't flow comfortably. This may just not be my kCouldn't get into this. found the plot too cliche and predictable to grab me and the writing really didn't flow comfortably. This may just not be my kind of book. The sort of story played out here is one I'm more comfortable with in graphic novel form....more
A middle grade steampunk time-travel adventure! I read Cody's Powerless a few years ago and loved it. He hasn't lost his touch, that much is evident.A middle grade steampunk time-travel adventure! I read Cody's Powerless a few years ago and loved it. He hasn't lost his touch, that much is evident. The subject matter of this book may be less familiar to young readers than the superhero realm of the last book, but I think any middle grade reader looking for some wild adventure may find this a good read. Lots of fun!
And there's room for more stories with our heroes in the future!...more
A decent second book in this series--and a little more cohesive than the first. I did find the set up chapters a bit rushed and confusing with all theA decent second book in this series--and a little more cohesive than the first. I did find the set up chapters a bit rushed and confusing with all the various viewpoints, and Octavia's involvement in this story is pretty minimal and uninteresting. Still steampunk spy adventures in a YA series make this a quick and entertaining read if you like action, drama and some intriguing characters.
There was one item in all this I didn't buy into as "science" quite so much. It's a pretty main plot point, but I didn't dwell on the inconsistencies overmuch. The point of the stories isn't so much accuracy of science or tech, but the adventure itself. The author likes to pull on a variety of literary characters to populate his works and this one is no exception....more
Decent YA steampunk. A little thin as I would have liked to read more about the characters and their training time before diving in, but I think thatDecent YA steampunk. A little thin as I would have liked to read more about the characters and their training time before diving in, but I think that was the purpose of the story as a young adult adventure....more
Lots of fun. If you liked the first book and want more of the same, you'll likely enjoy this one. If you didn't like the first one or were hoping forLots of fun. If you liked the first book and want more of the same, you'll likely enjoy this one. If you didn't like the first one or were hoping for a book that was a real departure from the first book, you probably won't care for this. If you haven't read the first book at all--it would help to go back and read that first, otherwise this might be a little rough to get into.
Pulp Steampunk, or is that "steampulp"?, seems to be on the rise lately and this is a very well written and researched example of it. Mark Hodder is a strong writer who loves the subjects he writes about and does some damn fine world building. I might quibble that this book was a little less about "the clockwork man" and more about a host of other events that make up the main arc of the book. Add in the fact that the ending felt a bit rushed after the build up and I'd give this four stars rather than five.
Looking forward to the next book in the series!...more
I picked this up after a run of perfectly uninspiring urban fantasies. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect, but was delighted with what I found. AnI picked this up after a run of perfectly uninspiring urban fantasies. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect, but was delighted with what I found. An alernate Victorian history steampunk novel full of familiar characters in unfamiliar roles. An engaging and fascinating romp through an England I've never even thought to imagine, but fully enjoyed seeing crafted on the pages I read.
Rather than a plucky young heroine or hero engaged in a wild steampunk ride, our protagonist is none other than Sir Richard Burton. Our world weary exporer and writer is about to find his life changed irrevocably through a series of bizarre events. Now Burton is determined to uncover the mystery behind Spring Heeled Jack.
The author captures the feel of the time period and characters while freely altering the landscape in some startling ways. Some of these are downright amusing, like the messanger birds that constantly curse while they deliver their messages. But it's not a steampunk or urban fantasy retread of tired ideas and the same old themes and characters. It's such a pleasure to delve into something that doesn't take itself too seriously, and yet it's obvious the author put a great deal of work and research into the setting and story. Much fun for the steampunk fan looking for something a little unusual....more