I can't remember where I found a review for this book, but it sounded intriguing so I requested it through interlibrary loan. As an avid fantasy reader, I have come across steampunk fiction several times, mostly recently in the guise of China Mieville. Mieville is known for his New Coruzscon series, which has the hallmarks of extremely detailed steampunk universe, but it also has the side effect of being difficult to read, hard to imagine, and just plain confusing. What I really appreciated from McQuerry was how she seamlessly incorporated elements of a fantasy steampunk world within the realms of an historical fiction.
Before you go any further in this review, I have to stay that this book falls firmly in the category of Young Adult Fiction. I thought this blog would be a good opportunity to bring some attention to the plight of the YA book in libraries today. As some of you know Kim Tolson is our Teen Librarian at the library, and she herself has said she doesn't call herself a YA librarian even though the genre is considered young adult. This is because of a shift in writing from YA authors. Generally "young adult" refers to people between the age of 18-25, but in the case of fiction, the audience is actually much younger. YA fiction is intended to reach kids of the age group between 12-18. There are drastic differences in the interests and appropriate subjects/language of a 12 year old and a 21 year old. This doesn't mean all YA is for younger readers, but it is a growing trend. Fiction like Twilight and Pretty Little Liars is not necessarily what I would have picked up as a 12 year old reader, but I have seen it circulate most often in that age demographic. Personally, I think that this introduces older themes to younger readers very quickly, but I also understand its hard to market to pre-teens and teens that have the internet at their fingertips. Disclaimer finished, I want to say that I found this book engaging and interesting to a larger group of readers than I had anticipated. If you like steampunk, mysteries, or history this book is worth reading more about.
Lena Mattacascar sets off on a grand adventure to find out the true meaning of her father's legacy. Journeying from the City to the remote Knobs Knoster (which I believe is an imaginary place by the ocean as MO is not anywhere near the ocean from what I can remember), Lena encounters a train robbery, hatred against those who don't fit in, and true friendship. The details of 19th century history poke through this story with the elegant detail of the Pullman car or the airpowered Girandoni rifle. As the reader is whisked along the same path as Lena, our young and impressionable heroine, we meet several interesting and strange characters, like Jimsom, the mysterious Dr. Beasley, and the missionary ladies, Mrs. Fortinbras and Mrs. Festicue.
What I really liked about this book is that the steampunk is only a means for setting such an interesting story. Yes there are the elements of tempering titanium and using steam, solar, and air power. Oh, did I mention the aerocopter. That's perhaps the most steampunky element of this whole story. The main story revolves around Lena's journey of self identity. Yes, there are people who can grow wings or are part goblin, but what is actually being explored can be related to by anyone who has felt ostracized for any reason. Lena's hands and feet are overly large and that sets her aside from normal society until she realizes that whatever her appearance as different doesn't affect who she is on the inside or mean that she is destined to follow the same paths as her "goblinish" father.
I think this book really needs a sequel, Lena is only just discovering what it means to be Peculiar and what it means to be Human. In addition to a couple of loose ends, I would really liked to see how Lena continues to grow as a person when dealing with the harsh landscape of Scree and her newly found grandmother/family. But mostly I think that Lena could be an excellent role model for any kids or teens that are feeling picked on by their peers. I was tormented by bullies my mum called "The Fashion Police" who constantly made me feel like the clothes I had or the way I looked could never be good enough. Compared to what kids are going through in school today with bullies, having a character that teens can relate to who survives her ordeals and learns about her inner strength could be very valuable.