Reading Level: Middle Grade
Length: 352 pages
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release Date: August 27, 2013
Stand Alone or Series: Stand Alone
Source: Swapped through Paperbackswap.com
Rating: 3/5 stars
“A remarkable adventure by award-winning author Matthew J. Kirby brings a fantastical American West filled with secrets and spies and terrifying creatures to vivid life.
In this extraordinary adventure story, Billy Bartram, his father, and a secret society of philosophers and scientists venture into the American wilderness in search of the lost people of the Welsh Prince Madoc, seeking aid in the coming war against the French. Traveling in a flying airship, the members of the expedition find their lives frequently endangered in the untamed American West by terrifying creatures, a party of French soldiers hot on their trail, and the constant threat of traitors and spies. Billy will face hazards greater than he can ever imagine as, together with his father, he gets caught up in the fight for the biggest prize of all: America.”
I have been a fan of Kirby’s book for a long time. I loved his Clockwork Three novel and also enjoyed his Dark Gravity Sequence series. This was an okay middle grade adventure steampunk novel by Kirby. I enjoyed some aspects of the story but through the whole thing was a bit simple and slow at points.
Billy Bartram is ecstatic when his father decides to let Billy accompany him on a journey into the American wild west. The society that Billy’s dad is part of is seeking the lost people of the Welsh Prince Madoc in hopes that they can enlist their aid for a war against the French. This is one of those alternate history sorts of books; but there are some elements of magic and some steampunk elements as well.
I loved the adventure and some of the crazy things Billy and his fellow travelers run into. However there just wasn’t enough of the adventure, creativity and wonder. Too much time ends up being spent on the politics between the different groups.
A lot of time is also spent dealing with Billy’s father’s hatred of Native Americans. Billy doesn’t understand this seemingly unfounded hatred his father has. This theme of hatred towards minority groups (and the sense of wrongness Billy gets from it) is really a driving theme of the book.
There was a lot in here that could have been amazing. I would have like to watch the scientists acquire interesting and wondrous specimens on their journey; instead their journey is plagued by infighting and trying to determine who a traitor in their midst is. The sense of wonder prevalent at the beginning of the story quickly degenerates into a snarl of human selfishness and scheming.
Overall this was an okay book but I was expecting so much more. The book out starts out full of promise but quickly degenerates into a treatise about human hatred and politics. There are some good lessons in here about tolerance and exploration but it didn’t work well with the beginning of the story. Not Kirby’s best work but there are some interesting elements here.
This book goes towards the following reading challenges:
– Mount TBR Reading Challenge
– You Read How Many Books? Reading Challenge
– Flights of Fantasy Reading Challenge
– Steampunk Reading Challenge
– YA Reading Challenge