5.0 out of 5 stars Like Frankenstein Meets The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane
Or “If John Bellairs wrote Journey to the Center of the Earth”
Secret societies, arcane knowledge, and lonely kids just trying to fit in—this story had the intrigue of Black Hollow Lane but with scenery sometimes beautiful but sometimes grim and with a voice whose style is more elevated and poetic, like C. S. Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew or Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. It has the same sense of wonder as The Magician’s Nephew (the first book in The Chronicles of Narnia where the protagonist takes a portal between worlds and awakens The White Witch from stasis out of fear and curiosity). It has gorgeous prose and the idea of forgotten science being perverted that Frankenstein touched on.
This story is about a twelve-year old boy who ends up at the wrong place at the wrong time, or is it the right time?
Simon finds himself a pawn between an ancient order of forbidden scientists, and one outcast mad scientist who would do anything to bend the world to his will.
Matthew gives in to curiosity and is set on a task by a creepy old man he encounters on a school field trip. Matthew’s loneliness, reactions to his dilemmas and his wonder were all relatable. It was refreshing for a book about school-aged kids to be set in a typical public school versus an elite institution. Being away from ones parents seems like an overdone attempt to remove support structure with little effort, much like the ubiquitous orphans of Disney. I appreciated that in the case of Matthew and Simon their parents, given the opportunity for free childcare that would look good on a CV or university application, they jumped on the opportunity for what seems like a prestigious, secret society.
Simon is an excellent friend, though they do have to work through challenges to their relationship. I think that aspect as well was refreshing because in real life kids don’t always get along and sometimes have to deal with a sense of betrayal or falling outs with their friends. He was an excellent supporter character who behaved very differently from Matthew; sometimes in kid books I feel like the supporting characters are just extensions of the main character with no personality or motivations of their own.
Master Hobble reminds me of an elderly physicist I once knew. He is very proper and cerebral, wants to encourage new minds, and sometimes is a little out of touch with his adulthood versus the challenges of children. He is very competent and moral—he does not fall into the trope of being a dumb, unhelpful adult, which is right up there for me with everyone’s an orphan: overdone and tiresome. The adults were well-developed and interesting.
Gwylfan Abbey in Wales stole my heart. I have dreamed of visiting Wales for so long, and the author let me live that dream, though I hope one day to have the kind of visit that involves cameras and passports.
The technology reminded me of Stargate—arcane sci-fi used to travel and escape the normal world to places just beyond that were top secret and yet not magical. I also compared it to if John Bellairs wrote Jules Verne’s The Journey to the Center of the Earth, because Bellairs’ compelling, mysterious middle-grade fiction reminded me of this author’s pacing, but paired with the creative prose of Jules Verne. I’ve recently started reading The Journey to the Center of the Earth again after reading it years ago. I had forgotten over the years that it too deals with lost science as the inciting incident is finding and deciphering a coded missive from a long-lost alchemist.
With Master Class’s comparison of Middle-Grade versus young adult, it’s my opinion that this is solidly middle-grade based off the protagonist’s age, the third-person writing, and the social challenges he faces. The stakes are high, but as appropriate for his age, it’s hard for him to see past the big picture, and he blames himself a bit for the hold the mad scientist has on him.
While there are some creepy moments, I do think that this book is age appropriate as a mother myself. It may be a bit before I introduce my little ones to this world, but I think they will thoroughly enjoy a trip on the copper line.
I really related to the character, enjoyed the prose, found the technology delightful, and found the pacing leaving me wanting more.
I highly recommend this book. I love that it didn’t focus on magic but technology, and as a former child who wasn’t allowed to read Harry Potter growing up, I think my mom would have let me read this book and that I would have loved it. I read the first edition with the gorgeous illustrations.