Our heroine, Natalie, lives in Arcane, Missouri, where odd stories of past happenings are told like bedtime stories. Her mother, who can hardly seem to get out of bed anymore, used to fill Natalie's head with the tales and always made them seem magical. When Dr. Limberleg's Nostrum Fair and Technological Medicine Show comes into town with strange machines and even stranger people, Natalie knows that something big is about to happen in little Arcane.
See, Natalie loves machines, especially the automata she builds with her father. But, when these unexplainable machines roll into town with the fair, along with claims of potions that heal any disease or ailment, she doesn't understand how they could possibly work...either the machines or the potions. Something is not right and Natalie, along with a few friends, is determined to figure it out in order to save her family and her town.
I've never quite come across a book like this one. Steampunk has not yet infiltrated my reading life, as it has so many of yours, but I fell in love with Kate Milford's writing and the fantastic illustrations done by Andrea Offermann. We are given a strong, yet unconfident heroine, which makes her completely realistic in this land of historical fantasy, as well as a story, unlike any other. Old town life is mixed with strange machines, a love of family and community, and (of course) some demons. Gotta love it!
Offermann's illustrations, though few, left me awestruck. I stared at each page for several minutes, scrutinizing the drawings and hoping to find hidden story clues. Milford is incredibly talented, both at engaging a reader through her words and through her drawings. Very impressive.
I did find myself having to read carefully, as there are a lot of characters to keep straight, as well as a lot of big concepts. At times, it made for some heavy reading, but I loved that...it made me think. That being said, the book (according to Amazon and Booklist) is marketed towards middle graders (5th-8th), but I feel it would much better suited for young adults. Some of your more advanced middle grade readers will easily get through it, but the complexity of the story may go over the heads of some younger ones.
The mystery within the story is very well done and message of believing in one's self comes out without being thrown in your face. I absolutely loved this one.
Overall rating: 5 out of 5
Review copy received from publisher
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