The Book Smugglers count among my favorite book bloggers ever. Not only do they manage to make my TBR grow even faster but their site is also beautifully structured, funny and insightful. I picked up this book entirely on their recommendation. Ana and Thea are my go-to girls when it comes to middle grade fantasy. So far, they haven’t let me down. Thanks for another great tip, you two!
by Kate Milford
Published by: Clarion Books, 2010
Illustrated by: Andrea Offermann
ebook: 384 pages
Series: Arcane #1
My rating: 7,5/10
First sentence: Strange things can happen at a crossroads.
Thirteen-year-old Natalie Minks loves machines, particularly automata – self-operating mechanical devices, usually powered by clockwork. When Jake Limberleg and his traveling medicine show arrive in her small Missouri town with a mysterious vehicle under a tarp and an uncanny ability to make Natalie’s half-built automaton move, she feels in her gut that something about this caravan of healers is a bit off. Her uneasiness leads her to investigate the intricate maze of the medicine show, where she discovers a horrible truth and realizes that only she has the power to set things right.
Set in 1914, “The Boneshaker “is a gripping, richly textured novel about family, community, courage, and looking evil directly in the face in order to conquer it.
Despite the misleading title, this is not a steampunk novel. The Boneshaker in question is Natalie Minks’ Chesterlane bicycle, a big bike for a young girl, and Natalie has a lot of trouble riding it – or just keeping it upright, for that matter. But there are other things on her mind once Jake Limberleg’s medicine show arrives in her little town of Arcane, and Dr. Limberleg makes Natalie’s automaton move without winding it up. There is something strange in the air of Arcane and Natalie gets the feeling that people are not what they seem.
This book was just what a good story for children should be. It draws you in quickly, provides us with a wonderful girl protagonist who doesn’t mind to scrape her knees and loves tinkering with clockwork automata, and weaves magical tales into the real world. Natalie loves hearing her mother tell stories, and the best ones are those about people living in her own town. The story of how old Tom Guyot faced the devil is Natalie’s favorite – and I can easily see why. As soon as we get to read that story, Kate Milford had her storyteller’s claws firmly set into my brain.
As we follow Natalie unravel the secrets of her town and especially of that strange caravan full of weird medicine, a machine that tells your future, and panaceas for sale, it becomes obvious that more is at stake than the townspeople having their money taken for nothing more than spiced water. I had a lot of fun figuring out what all the little clues meant, and even though some things were quite obvious (this being a children’s book, I’m sure I couldn’t have guessed as much when I was a kid) the atmosphere kept me interested anyway.
Being a German-speaker comes as somewhat of a disadvantage in the case of this book. Because of a certain name, a character twist that happens around the end was not just easy to guess but a plain fact long before it was revealed. I will not spoil this for you or even mention the name (now don’t you go Googling all the names in this book!) but the big reveal wasn’t a reveal at all to me – which obviously is not the author’s fault, and didn’t make the book any less fun. (On a sidenote: I hear something similar happened with Star Wars in the netherlands because the word “Vader” means father in Dutch – there you go. Although very similar to the German “Vater”, eleven-year-old me did not make that connection. So I guess I had it coming, anyway.)
I must also admit here that I did this book a great injustice. It was one of the first reads I started this year and I took a break right in the middle to read Cat Valente’s amazing Deathless, a book so beautiful I’m still recovering from it. After that, it took me a few chapters to get back into The Boneshaker. Despite my book-hangover, the ending was thoroughly satisfying and believable.
Part mystery, part coming-of-age story, The Boneshaker is a fun romp through an atmospheric town filled with magic, best enjoyed on a Chesterlane bicyle.
THE GOOD: Great storytelling, a nice mix of reality and magic, an original idea with a kick-ass heroine.
THE BAD: Not all things are completely revealed in the end.
THE VERDICT: A highly entertaining story unlike anything I can think of. This coming-of-age tale deserves more attention than it’s getting at the moment and I’ll be sure to pick up its prequel, The Broken Lands.
RATING: 7,5/10 Very good.