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
I don’t often open reviews with the first line, but in this case, I think it’s my favorite first line of the year so far.
“Rye and her two friends had never intended to steal the banned book from the Angry Poet–they’d just hoped to read it.”
First lines are like the first bite of food in a meal. They give you an instant impression of what the book will be like, sound like and feel like. While a great first line does guarantee a great book, a good first line can be quite a boon to a book. The moment I read this line I found myself relaxing into the story, recognizing I was in for a fun and furious ride. The Luck Uglies is a fantastic adventure of urban fantasy for middle grade readers that welcomes its audience in and brings readers along the rooftops and down into the tunnels and everywhere in between. Delicious, filling, and has got me asking for seconds!
Rye O’Chanter and her family live in the town of Drowning, a placed ruled by the oppressive and petty Earl Longchance. Rye’s nature is such that she cares nothing for the Earl’s laws (such as the one about women not reading) and is more than willing to break such rules–especially when there’s a chance to read a book that the Earl has banned. But now trouble has come back to Drowning. Monsters known as Bog Noblins have returned to the town, and pose a danger to everyone. Rye knows only the legendary Luck Uglies can defeat these monsters–but even if she finds this notorious secret society, will they help Drowning this time?
Sometimes names in a book are simply there and the readers won’t particularly note or notice them. Other times the names clash or wind up feeling inappropriate for the character or book. In rare instances, a book can take the names and run with them. Paul Durham’s book manages to succeed with names on a level I’ve only seen with a few other authors–including my personal favorite, Terry Pratchett. Let me just list a few of the names for characters and places you’ll find in the book: Morningwig Long Chance, The Dead Fish Inn, Bog Noblins, Rye O’Chanter, Harmless, Folly Flood. In another book, the names would feel out of place, oddly comical. Here they fit and light up the text, giving it character and a sense of earthy whimsy.
For a debut story this is great stuff. Heck, it’s great stuff no matter what. Vividly drawn characters and a setting that is as much a character in its own right. Interestingly, this is also a family story of sorts. Granted, Rye’s family is a very odd one indeed, but that just makes it more of a reading adventure. In some ways this tale remains fairly straight forward, our worst villain is obvious from the start–there’s no gray area when it comes to Earl Longchance, he’s as nasty as Prince Humperdink. While I think the adventure and fun of the tale are firmly middle grade, there is some rather startling violence in the story. (for instance, a man getting his arm bitten off) that might be a bit much for some readers. Despite the light-hearted feel of the story there is still some truly frightening stuff going on.
For all that, it’s going to be the characters that win out for me. Especially Rye’s toddler sister, Lottie who seems to have a dangerous love of swords and pointy objects. This story is presented up front as the first in a trilogy and I for one will be looking forward to the next volume!
Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett (HarperCollins, 2003) Goblins by Philip Reeve (Scholastic, 2013) The Vengekeep Prophecies by Brian Farrey (HarperCollins, 2012) Note: An advanced reader copy was provided by the publisher....more