Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Published: May 2014
Genre: middle grade, historical fiction, steampunk
Ten-year-old Jack Foster has stepped through a doorway and into quite a different London.
Londinium is a smoky, dark, and dangerous place, home to mischievous metal fairies and fearsome clockwork dragons that breathe scalding steam. The people wear goggles to protect their eyes, brass grill insets in their nostrils to filter air, or mechanical limbs to replace missing ones.
Over it all rules the Lady, and the Lady has demanded a new son—a perfect flesh-and-blood child. She has chosen Jack.
Jack’s wonder at the magic and steam-powered marvels in Londinium lasts until he learns he is the pawn in a very dangerous game. The consequences are deadly, and his only hope of escape, of returning home, lies with a legendary clockwork bird.
The Gearwing grants wishes—or it did, before it was broken—before it was killed. But some things don’t stay dead forever.
Jack adores mechanical things. He takes apart clocks just to see the insides, and puts them back together in pristine order. His mother does not find that interesting, but an older man with strange glasses does, and implores Jack’s mother to allow him to take Jack as an apprentice. Little does Jack know that this man is an accomplice for the Lady of Londinium, and when Jack stumbles through a doorway into the smoky, clockwork city, he finds he’s the center of a dangerous plot.
What a creative, whimsical tale. It reminded me a bit of Alastair Grim’s Odditorium with its steampunk elements and curious protagonists. I am not sure what I was expecting — despite the publisher’s summary stating it exactly on the jacket — but I enjoyed Jack’s adventure and character growth. This is a tale about a child who wanted nothing more than to be accepted and loved for his curious mind, but then then received it by way of dark intentions. It makes the last line of this book all the more powerful.
All in all, this fits the bill for the kind of MG books I enjoy. One or two things irked me a bit and knocked down the rating, but they’re so nit-picky it’s almost not worth mentioning. Trevayne is an excellent storyteller, but the writing style took a while for me to fall into. That, in turn, influenced the pacing and plot of the story. While I really enjoyed Jack’s scenes with the mechanic and his wind-up girl (my favorites are with them, actually!), I itched for adventure and the Gearwing. By the time the Gearwing entered the picture, the plot sped along and raced to the end.
If you’re looking for a standalone historical fantasy that makes for a quick read, Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times is an enchanting book that you must try. Maybe you’ll fall more in love with the writing style, and sink so deeply into the book that Jack’s predicament and the tragedy of the Gearwing hits you right in the feels.
This qualifies as book #2 in my autumn reading challenge.