Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, intriguing plot
Cons: Slow starts; moralizing
The Bottom Line:
Steampunk series starts
Strong characters, fun story
Look forward to more
Plenty of Peril to Keep the Pages Turning
Having enjoyed all three books in the Hero's Guide series, I've been anxiously waiting to see what Christopher Healy would write next. The wait is over as his new series, A Perilous Journey of Danger and Mayhem, has finally kicked off with A Dastardly Plot.
This time, he is taking us to 1883, but a Steampunk 1883. He's populated the world with many real and fictional people, and made many of the cast inventors. While some things, like electricity and the telephone, were really being used to improve everyday life during that time, this book also includes some fun sounding inventions that, sadly, we are still waiting for.
The story itself centers on Molly Pepper, the daughter of a female inventor named Cassandra. With the 1883 World's Fair coming in their native New York City, Molly is hoping that Cassandra will get a spot to exhibit some of her many great inventions. Sadly, the Inventor's Guild has snagged all the spots for their members, who are all men. Even a last-minute invitation to show some of her inventions to a panel of judges is rescinded when a new member of the guild is admitted.
This frustration drives Molly and Cassandra to break into the Inventor's Guild to try to change things. However, once inside, Molly stumbles on some plans that make her think someone is planning to sabotage the opening of the fair in just over a week. Is she right? Who is the villain? Can she stop it?
When I picked up this book, I was ready to be swept away in another fun adventure. Eventually, that did happen, but the book took a little while to get going. Yes, some of that was set up, but even so the early part of the book was a little slow. By the time we reached the end, I was fully engaged, however. The climax is wonderful, and some of the lines and events along the way elicited laughter as I was reading although overall this book isn't as funny as the Hero's Guide trilogy.
As I already mentioned, we meet a wide variety of characters over the course of the book, some real and some fictional. I thought they all came to life. Even at the beginning, these characters helped pull me into the story and make me care what would happen next.
Please pay close attention to what I'm about to say. My biggest issue with the book was the way it handled the sexism of the time. As I've already noted, Cassandra was left out of a group because she was a woman. That is wrong. I felt like this point was preached at us at times instead of incorporated well into the story. Honestly, this preaching at us is part of why I felt the beginning was so slow, but it pops up again later in the book. I'm sure the target middle age audience would have picked up on the theme if it were subtler. And yes, there is some talk of the racism of the time, but it wasn't pounded on nearly as much. None of these passages went on too long, but they did slow down the flow of the story. Discrimination is wrong, but this can be shown to us without preaching it to us when we are reading fiction.
And this book really did provide that mostly fun world. As I already said, some of the inventions that were discussed would be wonderful to have in our world today. If only there were a way to really create some of them.
One thing I really appreciated as a few pages at the back where Christopher Healy separated some of the fact from the fiction. I actually learned something just from reading those three pages.
I'm intrigued about where this series is going to go since we were teased several things at the end of this book that will be fodder for further adventures. A Dastardly Plot has kicked things off with a fun start.
This book is part of this week's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.