Publish Date: April 4, 2014
Format: E-book or Paperback (read by the reviewer as an E-book).
Pages: 221 pages
Synopsis: Someone is on the hunt for the steam engine plans, and believes that master inventor, Nikolas Klaus, has them. Thought dead by most, and forgotten by many, the quiet grandfather has been living for years in the sleepy mountain town of Minette, keeping his inventions mostly to himself and watching his granddaughter grow up.
Twelve-year-old Tee, and her two best friends, Elly and Richy, come together as the heroic Yellow Hoods in the face of life threatening danger. Whose side are the Cochon brothers on, and will they tip the balance? Will Nikolas’ ties to one of the secret societies cost him Tee’s life?
The world is 1800s-eque, with a thrilling history that is discovered throughout the series. Elements of fairy-tales are woven in, as if these were the real world events that inspired the tales and rhymes we know.
The book shifts to a darker tone part way through, as the initial view of the main characters transitions from naive and simple, to realizing life is anything but. It has been called “The Kingkiller Chronicles meets the Hunger Games” and the “Harry Potter of technology.”. (Source: Amazon product description.)
Short Version: My first foray into the world of Steampunk, and would make a great DreamWorks film.
Longer Version: For someone who hasn’t got kids, I’ve been reading a lot of awesome Kidlit recently, and this is no exception. I actually quit my usual practice of taking notes throughout because I was absorbed in the story which, after a slightly slow world-building beginning, falls into an absolutely cracking pace.
I have to say it outright – this is one of the most tightly-plotted kids’ fantasy books I’ve read in a long time. Every main character has a definite goal, whether it’s the villain who wants Nikolaus’s steam-engine plans, the sub-villain who wants the villain to pay him for said plans, or the sub-sub-villain who, poignantly, wants “to matter.” I find with a lot of fictional characters that they don’t engage me because they seem aimless, doing trivial things without any clear purpose behind them; that’s not a problem here.
Tee is a great heroine – a mixture of admirable, adult-like bravery and ingenuity, and the impetuosity that reminds us that she’s twelve years old. Unlike a lot of fiction aimed at kids this age, Tee’s backstory isn’t played for drama or angst. She is the product of a loving and supportive family, and the importance of that family’s support can’t be overstated in this instalment, anyway.
Andre LeLoup (literally translates as: the manly wolf) is an absolutely delightful villain. He doesn’t just scream “NO” when things don’t go his way; he uses multiple exclamation marks (see my above comment on how I think this would make an excellent DreamWorks film.) He’s a great mixture of campy and genuinely scary.
For someone who’s not otherwise very familiar with Steampunk, I found it fairly easy to adjust to (though the clash of archaic setting and extremely modern names and dialogue, while no doubt a feature of the genre, was a little confusing at first.) Dreece’s explanation of all sorts of apparatuses (apparati? meh) are written with a sure hand that inspired me, at least, to trust that he knows what he’s talking about…. or at least what he’s thinking about.
There are some delightful moments of subtle humour injected into even the most tense of scenes. Our Evil Overlord has a butler named Cleeves, a parental bonus unlikely to blip on the radar of a child. LeLoup tries to flip a table in a dramatic rage and finds it’s bolted down – then decides that the only thing to be done is to sit down and have a nice cup of tea. And there’s this pithy description of an aging army captain:
Even his gray mustache seemed to have gained weight.
There were a few moments where I felt as if the writing and characterisation could have been improved. Our three heroes, Tee, Elly and Richy, discuss the events of the day behind them in a flurry of clichés like “something evil out there”, “our fate is tied to it”, “some kind of test” and “time will tell”, all in as many lines of dialogue. In a couple of other places my suspended belief wobbled or just fell down, such as a twelve-year-old girl outrunning a villain on a horse and a guardsman shooting accurately at three hundred yards. (This character’s father remarks himself that it’s ‘nearly impossible’. I’ve written in my notes, “it IS impossible!”)
Minor picks aside, this was immensely entertaining and definitely something I’ll be suggesting to parents I know with children around Tee’s age.