Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times by Emma Trevayne

flights 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.

Although I’m not usually a fan of fantasy, this dark middle grade read was a wonderful exception.  The gorgeous cover featuring clocks, steam, gears, and goggles peaked my interest in this steampunk adventure.  Set in a mysterious alternate version of London, readers can expect portals, dragons, airships, mechanical faeries, and villains. Trevayne’s imaginative descriptions of this parallel world and the characters in them were well written.  A few black and white illustrations were spread throughout and enjoyed; minus the image on page 192 (I have no idea what it’s supposed to be).  My other critique is regarding The Lady.  All we know is that she desperately wants a human child. But why?  I think her character left some unexplored potential.

Overall, I could easily see this book being adapted to the big screen. The unique premise and the steampunk world building, create a page-turning fantastical adventure that would have high appeal to middle graders.

Review: Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin

In this twist on Edgar Allen Poe’s gothic short story, a wealthy teenaged girl who can afford a special mask to protect her from the plague that decimated humanity in the mid-1800s, falls in love, becomes caught up in a conspiracy to overthrow an oppressive government, and faces the threat of a new plague. –From Novelist

“….The book’s characters are not the only ones manipulated here. Readers will twist and turn, puzzling out hero from villain, only to be left dangling and anticipating the sequel”— Booklist

I’ve never read Edgar Allen Poe’s Masque of the Red Death, but the premise of a book based on the dark gothic short story really appealed to me.  I’m not really sure why I’ve been reading so many books on death and disease lately, but I just keep picking them up. The beautiful cover didn’t hurt either!

Writing this review is difficult. There were some aspects I didn’t enjoy: the shallow self-medicating characters, the slow moving beginning, and the love triangle. On the flip side, I liked the steampunk elements, storyline surprises, and vivid descriptions. I really thought the concept of the masks was the best part as it adds a unique level of creepiness to this world overrun with plague and death.  However, for some reason I kept picturing the V for Vendetta mask.  How did you imagine the masks?

The difference between the human experience for the wealthy and those living in poverty was unsettling.  I couldn’t imagine living in the crumbling dying lower city, while watching careless, glamorous, fashionable teens, behave scandalously. Since the poor cannot afford the masks, the masks come to symbolize the divide between the wealthy and poor. The underlying theme of science vs. religion also played an important part too.

With the amount of drugs, sexual content, violence and horrific death scenes, I would recommend this book to an older YA crowd.  Check out this book if you’re into: dystopia, steampunk, and death & disease (like me apparently).

Look for Dance of the Red Death (book #2) to be released Spring 2013.

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