A Middle-Grade Steampunk Maniacal Book Club Review: The League of Seven…

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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!

The League of Seven

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…

Guru Dave

maniacal book club guru dave

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.

Toothless

maniacal book club toothlessNo 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.

Mad Martha

maniacal book club marthaIf 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.

Bruce

maniacal book club bruceI 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….

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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,

Bruce

* I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review*

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Adult Fiction Read-it-if Review: Irregular Verbs and Other Stories…

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Afternoon story-lovers! Today I have another title for the grown-ups and this one is a collection of short stories, something that I know many of you love to indulge in (for both reading and writing).  Irregular Verbs and Other Stories by Matthew Johnson features a whole range of short delights that run the gamut from accidental time-travelling folk from ancient civilisations, to the deliberate time-travelling citizens of a future Now.  But there’s more – much more than just time travel – to whet the appetite of anyone who likes to get stuck into a good yarn, and knows that for some readers, it’s better to be in it for a good time, than a long time.

irregular verbs and other storiesRead it if:

*you keep meaning to read a short story collection, but never quite get around to picking one up (surely it can wait…what harm could waiting do?)

* you ever made up a pretend language as a kid and wish you’d written it down (mainly so that you could use it to escape awkward social situations)

* you’ve ever had nightmares about elderly zombies, gnashing their terrible dentures and waving their sharpened-to-a-point bus passes

*you appreciate a writer who can drag you in with only a few short sentences, over and over and over again

 

I was pleasantly surprised by this collection because, although I enjoy reading short stories, I often find that collections can be hit and miss.  With Irregular Verbs I was happy to discover that not only did I enjoy the vast majority of these stories, but I also found myself deeply engaged in the tales within the first page.

Johnson seems to be a master at efficient, realistic world-building.  A number of the stories take place in alternate versions of our own time, or worlds that feature some aspect of time travel and I never felt like I had to work to figure out what was going on.  Within the first page or two, I was totally drawn in and the idiosyncracies of each world seemed perfectly reasonable.

My favourite stories of the bunch included the opener, which features a world in which complete languages are habitually created between partners, neighbours and small communities but are subject to the flimsy commitment of conversation in order to remain alive.  A timely warning appears in a tale in which those things that we can’t seem to find time for have been turned into commodities, ready to be purchased on easy-to-manage monthly installments.  Johnson also tries a new take on the Zompocalypse, with old-age pensioners making up the bulk of the shuffling hordes (complete with slippers and dressing gowns).  Another highlight for me was the one-way time-travel tale in which welcome centres have been created to deal with a strange anomaly in space/time that causes random groups of people from Ancient Roman times to be whisked into contemporary history.

Overall, I found this to be a fascinating collection of stories that deal with scenarios that give pause for thought.  Whether it’s the question of what exactly it is that keeps a common history safe in the minds of a society, or the conundrum of end-of-life directives for a being that seems to be immortal, these tales will get you thinking and I recommend it for the fearless, intrepid sort of armchair traveller.

Irregular Verbs and Other Stories was released on June 18th, and I received a digital copy from the publisher via Netgalley.

Until next time,

Bruce

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