Hold on to your clockwork propeller hats and affix your brass goggles firmly to your face, because the Maniacal Book Club has a rip-snorting steampunk adventure for you today! Now in the past I’ve been a bit ambivalent about the whole steampunk genre – it seems like something that I should really enjoy but for some reason I had not found any examples of it that I could really get excited about. But that all changes today, because with The League of Seven by Alan Gratz and Brett Helquitz, I have discovered a book that had me wound up (clockworky pun intended) for days. It’s got monsters, clockwork robot butlers, scary mind-controlling insect she-goddesses, unusual powers, secret societies and it’s set in an alternate version of the 1800s. Let us plunge in – full steam ahead!
Archie Dent’s parents are part of the mysterious and secret Septemberist society – a group existing since ancient times, whose job it is to protect the world from the monstrous Mangleborn. The Mangleborn have been trapped in underground prisons for a milennia, but it seems that once again they are attempting to rise up and destroy humanity. The legends say that every time the Mangleborn rise, a new League of Seven is created – humans with particular skills that come together to put the Mangleborn back into their earthly prisons once more.
When Archie and his parents (along with their clockwork robot valet, Mr Rivets) are called to a secret Septemberist society meeting, the last thing Archie expects is to find his parents – and the entire High Council – controlled by a swarm of evil insects burrowing into their necks. It appears that someone is attempting to re-harness electricity in this steam-driven world in order to unleash the Mangleborn once again.
The only thing for it is for Archie and Mr Rivets to follow his insect-laden parents and try to stop the Mangleborn Swarm Queen, Macasah Ahasherat, from breaking out into the world. Along with the technologically talented Fergus and brooding warrior girl Hachi, Archie must try to undo the evil that is about to be unleashed – but Archie himself is harbouring a secret so deep that not even he knows how it will affect his destiny…
Friends, long has it been the case that stories for the young have told of the battle between good and evil. Archie’s tale reminds us that no matter how small, we all have a part to play in creating a world of peace and freedom for each other.
The friendship between Hachi, Fergus and Archie inspires us to lean on our friends in our time of need, as we are all important cogs in the great machine. And finally, Mr Rivets demonstrates to us that even in the face of mind-manipulating insect minions burrowing into one’s spinal column, the proper use of etiquette can make all the difference.
No dragons in this book….but there are BIG MONSTER INSECTS and ZAPPING ELECTRICITY AND WHACKING AND BASHING AND AIRSHIPS CRASHING AND GIANTS WHO CRUSH THINGS AND….
(*Bruce here: He goes on in this vein for quite some time, so I’ve done some judicious editing*)
…AND THEN THERE’S A BIG ROBOT WITH RED EYES THAT TRIES TO KILL EVERYONE and…and…did I mention the big monster insects?
A couple more dragons would have been nice, but I think boys who like monsters and insects and zapping and crashing will like this book.
If you want to be a Septemberist, you may face dangers on this list,
including (but not limited to), monstrous beings that will kill you,
rogue robotic clockwork men, for whom hate is a state of zen,
and scientists, in loony glee, who’ll murder indiscrim’nantly.
But on the bright side, you’ll find those who’ll walk with you through wretched woes,
and you’ll travel, (with some gripes), through pneumatic postal pipes,
proving true, why I’ll be sworn, that you can beat those Mangleborn.
I think I’m just going to put it out there: this book was the surprise favourite of the year so far for me. As I mentioned, I feel like steampunk is something that should appeal to me, given my taste in reading, but it just hasn’t turned out to be my thing. Gratz however, has created such an interesting, engaging, complex and exciting world here that I couldn’t help but be drawn straight in.
One of my favourite things about The League of Seven is the alternate history of the world. Gratz has created an America of the late 1800s in which Native Americans and European settlers live together under the banner of a United Nations. As such, the First Nations people of North America are afforded an equal status as characters and the differences between tribal groups are accepted and form part of the rich tapestry of the world. Now I know that this is a fantasy story, but it is fantastic to see a story for young people, (even a made-up one), in which First Nations characters and culture are given equal standing with those of European heritage – and I must say, the world-building is much stronger for it.
The early part of the story, in which the legend of the Mangleborn is explained and Archie’s parents come under the control of the Swarm Queen, put me in mind of Garth Nix’s Abhorsen trilogy, featuring as it did, extremely powerful monsters that have been imprisoned in the earth with wards and codes and puzzles in the hope that they’ll never get out. The world and the background underpinning it is so unique though, that this feeling of familiarity soon turned into a happy glow in the back of my mind as I ventured deeper into the story with Archie, Fergus and Hachi.
The characters are complex and well-developed, with each of the three protagonists having comprehensive back-stories that feed nicely into their placement in the emerging League of Seven. Archie is immediately likeable and as I didn’t see the twist in his personal history coming, I found that it provided a satisfying bit of emotional grist to balance out the action of the final chapters. Mr Rivets is also a wonderful character, providing the much-needed grown-up’s perspective in the temporary absence of any trustworthy adult humans to assist the three adventurers.
Overall this is a hefty, electrifying (pun-intended!), fun, nail-biting ride with a fantastic setting and thorough world development. I highly recommend it to those in the upper end of the middle grade bracket who enjoy steampunk, or who are looking for a story in the fantasy genre, that is packed with action and puzzling mysteries. Older readers will also find plenty to get their teeth into here, expecially lovers of the steampunk genre. The Book Club gives it….
FOUR THUMBS UP
…which is a big call, given that at least two of us don’t actually have thumbs.
The League of Seven is the first of a trilogy and I will definitely be hanging out (of my airship!) to see how the fortunes of the League pan out.
Until next time,
* I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review*