Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger
I must admit right up front that I haven’t read Carriger’s adult series The Parasol Protectorate. So it is with fresh eyes that I came to the first book in her new teen series. Here we meet Sophronia who at age 14 is rough and tumble enough for her mother to send her to a finishing school, hoping that she will learn proper manners and decorum before her older sister’s debutante ball. Sophronia thinks she is being sent to a dull school only about curtsying and clothes, but Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality turns out to be about far more than Victorian manners and society. Instead Sophronia is thrust into adventure right from the trip to school, finding herself the heroine when they are attacked on their travels. As she discovers her real gifts are embraced by her new school, much of which would chagrin and alarm her mother. This blend of boarding school and steampunk espionage will not stay on library shelves for long!
Carriger has created a great world in her book, one that I understand is the same as that in her adult novels. Populated with vampires and werewolves as well as humans, the world that Sophronia is sent to at school reveals that there is far more to life than her mother would approve of. The setting of a school that floats in the air also adds that distance and isolation that works so well in boarding school novels.
Happily, Sophronia is a girl who loves adventure and though she may disdain her mother’s focus on fashion and decorum, begins to learn that as well. She is a brave character, one that is unafraid to go against societal rules. It makes for a book that is rambunctious and wildly fun while at the same time filled with wide skirts, hats and frippery. It’s a charming mix.
With the popularity of steampunk, this is one book that belongs in every public library collection for teens. With no sex and plenty of action, middle school readers will also enjoy it immensely. It’s a very fun read, so expect demand for the upcoming books as well. Appropriate for ages 13-16.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Peculiars by Maureen Doyle McQuerry
This steampunk fantasy novel is set in the late 1800s. Lena lives with her mother and grandmother and on her 18th birthday is given a letter that her father had left for her. Her father left when she was a tiny child, leaving only one thing behind, Lena’s very long hands and feet. Her hands are so long that they have an additional joint and she wears special gloves to make them less conspicuous. The world she lives in is not accepting of “Peculiars” and Lena wonders if her hands and feet mark her as more than a genetic abnormality. There are rumors her father was a goblin. Along with the letter, Lena receives a deed to her father’s mine in Scree. So she sets off on a journey north to Scree but before she can get there, the train she is on is attacked and her savings are stolen. She met a very nice young man, Jimson on the train, and he mentioned working in a library. She also met a handsome young marshal, Thomas Saltre, who asks her help in spying on someone who is experimenting upon Peculiars. In exchange, he will help her find a guide to head to Scree. Filled with steam powered machines, dubious inventions, and adventure this book asks deep questions that are not easily answered.
A lot of those questions focus upon what makes people different and whether genetics decide your personality. There is also a strong look at persecution of people who are different, with laws that make them unable to own property and not be seen as really human. There are even beliefs that people who are Peculiar do not have souls. It is a fantasy lens look at a society moments before what could become a genocide. This immense societal pressure adds to the tension throughout the book, and plays a factor in the way the story turns.
The book can be slow at times, though I was enjoying the world building enough that it did not concern me. I enjoyed lingering in the library with Jimson and Lena, enjoyed unraveling the truth of what was happening. The characters are intriguing and complex.
With the popularity of steampunk, this book should find an eager audience. Readers may not expect such a complex society that poses such dark questions, and that will be a welcome surprise.
Appropriate for ages 13-16.
Reviewed from ARC received from Amulet Books.
The Boneshaker by Kate Milford
Natalie Minks grew up surrounded by strange tales about her town near the crossroads, and everyone knows that odd things happen at crossroads. Natalie’s father was the bicycle mechanic in town and he also worked on the new cars like the one for the town’s doctor. Natalie too loved machines, especially automatons. She was also trying to master riding a strange bicycle that her father rebuilt for her, but embarrassingly enough, she simply couldn’t ride the thing at all. The town too was used to weird things happening, but no one was prepared for the day when Dr. Jake Limberleg’s Nostrum Fair and Technological Medicine Show came to town bringing all manner of weird medicinal remedies and even machines that never stopped running, even though Natalie knew that was impossible. As Natalie slowly discovers the mystery of the Medicine Show, readers will be drawn into this book that is just as intricate and mesmerizing as the show itself.
Milford has created a unique book here with its amazing mixture of historical fiction, fantasy and horror. The steampunk elements of the book keep it current and hip, but there is far more going on here than automaton. It is a story filled with the horror of demons on the Devil himself. The book’s pacing adds to the dynamic nature with leisurely sections leading into almost frantic pacing. It is a book that lures one in, offers one book and then changes, amazingly into another sort of book instead. It is a book that blazes and burns against the setting of a small town in 1913.
Natalie is a great heroine, who really solves the mystery on her own without the help of the grown ups and also saves the town all on her own. It is a celebration of girls who are smart, savvy and who question authority.
This gripping tale offers so many twists that one is never sure exactly where the book is headed. Guaranteed to thrill, it is one great flying ride of a read. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Reviewed from library copy.
Also reviewed by:
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Released in October 2009.
The talented Westerfeld turns to steampunk in this first book in a new series. Set in an alternate history on the eve of World War I, this book offers large walking mechs vs. man-made creatures that can be combined to form enormous flying and living blimps. In this setting are two young people, Alek and Deryn. Alek, son of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, is the sole surviving person in his family now that his parents have been killed. He just may be considered the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne if he can survive long enough. Deryn is a girl who has always loved to fly, but in 1914 girls are not allowed to become pilots. So Deryn becomes Dylan, a tall, lean boy and proves she is born to fly. The reader experiences the action through the eyes of both characters living completely separate lives until history brings them violently together.
Gorgeously imagined and written with a flair for battle and a sense of wonder, this book is a winner. The pacing is fast, the action whirling, and the history deftly placed so that even teens and youth unaware of World War I’s basic timeline will understand the implications and importance of what they are witnessing in this alternate history. Westerfeld’s characters are caught in the vortex of history and war and spend little time offering deeper insights about their psyches, but that is part of the pleasure here. This book is more about the incredible war machines and creatures, the awe of flying, the amazement of running in a mech, and the biological magnificence of an enormous flying creature. As readers, we too are swept up in the imagination on the page, happily believing in the most incredible creations.
Teens will pick this novel up simply because it is a Westerfeld novel, and happily this book will also offer an entry point for younger readers to enjoy Westerfeld’s work. While much of Westerfeld’s work is for teens, this book could be offered to 5th and 6th graders without concern. It is a rip-roaring and gripping look at both the future and the past that readers of all ages will have trouble putting down.
Reviewed from an ARC received at ALA Annual Conference.
Also reviewed by Karin’s Book Nook.