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!
A pleasantly quick read. Stuart Horton moves back to the town where his famous great uncle lived. He quickly realizes there is a mystery to be solved...moreA pleasantly quick read. Stuart Horton moves back to the town where his famous great uncle lived. He quickly realizes there is a mystery to be solved in the old puzzle box his father has--a mystery surrounding his missing uncle and his workshop. With the help of another child who lives next-door--a budding journalist with a nose for scandal--Stuart sets about solving the puzzles set before him. But other people in the town want the Horton workshop and the valuable things it holds . . . can Stuart solve the riddles first?
There relatively little fantasy in the whole of this story, though there is a pinch of it. Most of the magic lies within the three pence pieces Stuart has to use to solve the mystery. Those who enjoy a good puzzle may enjoy this if they can look past the fantastic elements. Those looking for a straightforward fantasy may be less enthralled. I liked the book, didn't love it. Part of that has to do with the sheer one dimensional nature of our villain in this. She's not at all interesting or more than a one-note menace throughout the story. I also got weary of Stuart's parents with their word games.
In the end it's a perfectly good little story, and I don't regret reading it, but it's not one of my favorites by any stretch.(less)
I've been faithfully following the Greywalker series for all seven books now. Actually, I didn't really know about the books until I came across a Gre...moreI've been faithfully following the Greywalker series for all seven books now. Actually, I didn't really know about the books until I came across a Greywalker short story in one of the anthologies I read. I was intrigued by the character and the world building and promptly dug up the first book in the series. (So you see, those anthologies can really help find new readers).
What to tell you . . . I honestly feel this particular addition to the series has a quieter and more subdued tone to it overall. But it's a well done seafaring story added to the canon and I read through it fairly quickly.
I think I'm best off telling you that if you haven't liked the Greywalker books before, you probably won't like this one. The romantic elements are sideline stuff (this author is more interested in mystery and fantastic themes). The books are not kick-ass heroine action adventure. The main protagonists are not really the larger than life types. They are complicated and thoughtful.
One of the things I love about this series is that it doesn't have a focus on clothes. It's a pet peeve of mine. If within a few pages of the opening of a story the heroine is kidnapped and threatened with possible death and doom and she's thinking about how at least her panties match her bra . . . then that book is not going to be read by me. But beyond the extremes, most of the urban fantasies I've read give at least several paragraphs over to clothing and costume changes. It's not all bad, mind you, but it's refreshing to read a novel where that isn't a real point of interest.
All I can say in conclusion is that I hope the author will continue with Harper. I'd personally love to see a few more short stories featuring this protagonist!(less)
Not my favorite anthology. Overall I just didn't feel the stories really fit all that well together into what I would consider urban fantasy, although...moreNot my favorite anthology. Overall I just didn't feel the stories really fit all that well together into what I would consider urban fantasy, although Martin's intro makes the attempt to put them all together. Generally I prefer my urban fantasy to be, well, urban. Not all of these were, or at least lacked a real focus on the urban elements. Especially Gabaldon's story with Lord John. Out in colonial Jamaica is not at all what I'd consider urban.
The stories were so-so overall, and I thought the offerings by the big name authors for urban fantasy in the collection were particularly shrug-worthy. I'd hoped for more, but oh well. Worth a look through and a story or two, but not brilliant.(less)
This might be more the thing for the math whiz, I found it didn't really grab me for very long. The setting and the story are inventive, but the overa...moreThis might be more the thing for the math whiz, I found it didn't really grab me for very long. The setting and the story are inventive, but the overall plot seemed almost anticlimactic. While I enjoy a good riddle in a story, a book full of math related clues that the protagonists must solve didn't excite me all that much. Oh well, on to the next!(less)
Not terrible, but felt the book suffered from an overkill of characters and dialog. Would have been better slightly streamlined and a few less absurd...moreNot terrible, but felt the book suffered from an overkill of characters and dialog. Would have been better slightly streamlined and a few less absurd elements thrown in. The impact of the absurd elements included would then be stronger. Midway through I had to start skimming a bit out of frustration with how long it was taking things to happen. Still, entertaining in it's way, with definite potential and a lot of fun and funny moments.(less)