Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, $16.99 hardbound, ISBN-10 1442498773, May 2014
Ten-year-old Jack Foster has stepped through a doorway and into quite a different London. Londinium is a smoky, dark, and dangerous place, home to mischievous metal fairies and fearsome clockwork dragons that breathe scalding steam. The people wear goggles to protect their eyes, brass grill insets in their nostrils to filter air, or mechanical limbs to replace missing ones. Over it all rules the Lady, and the Lady has demanded a new son—a perfect flesh-and-blood child. She has chosen Jack. Jack’s wonder at the magic and steam-powered marvels in Londinium lasts until he learns he is the pawn in a very dangerous game. The consequences are deadly, and his only hope of escape, of returning home, lies with a legendary clockwork bird. The Gearwing grants wishes. Or it did, before it was broken. Before it was killed. But some things don’t stay dead forever.
I didn’t mean to steampunk twice in a row, but I went straight to Flights and Chimes after reading YA fantasy Camelot Burning. I love Flights and Chimes, but I am all airshipped out for now!
Trevayne puts a steampunk twist on the story of the stolen child. Jack steps into a grim world of clocks and gears with an overlay of magic. His best friend is a living wind-up doll who might very slightly remind readers of Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas, but in a good way.
Nothing terribly new here: Jack’s parents back in London are rich, neglectful Bankses types. He winds up in a magical land with a parent figure who pays him all the attention he could ever want, but in a “be careful what you wish for” twist, her love turns out to be far more dangerous than neglect. Of course, the only way out is a puzzle wrapped in a quest wrapped in a prophecy that only Jack can fulfill. Add the dark atmosphere and the whole shooting match comes off very Coraline.
That’s not to say it’s substandard, though. The writing, the atmosphere, the world, the characters…all solid and thought-provoking, and terribly British. Your middle grade fantasy readers will love, love, LOVE this and be desperate for book two. Just tell them to reread Coraline while they wait!
Recommend to: Fantasy fans
To buy or not to buy: A first purchase