Sunday, August 24, 2014

Book Review: The Boneshaker

A couple of years ago I read The Broken Lands and found myself regretting that it had taken so much time to get to the book since I whole heartedly adored it and yet never got around to reading the book it was a prequel to. My to-read list is so long I had nearly forgotten about it until I saw the author talking about the kickstarter she was doing (I believe it was either a companion novella to this or for another, unconnected novella she had written) that prompted me to check my new library systems to see if they had a copy and to reserve it. And so, here are my thoughts on it, and I am also so glad the library seems to have found their copy again, this is the second book in four months they've said I lost after I turned it in and I had to find the first one on the shelves myself.....

The Boneshaker by Kate Milford

When Dr. Jake Limberleg's Nostrum Fair and Technological Medicine Show stops in Arcane, Missouri it seems as if everyone in town is delighted but Natalie, while curious she's also creeped out by how Dr. Limberleg can make her handcrafted automatons move completely on their own and doesn't trust that this is just a trick. And while many things in this show are tricks some are real, true dark magic and since Natalie is the only one who notices it she has to be the one to stop it, no matter how unprepared she feels for the task and what the cost might be to her or her family. 

I'm not sure if part of my problem here is because there was such a large gap between when I read these stories or because I read The Broken Lands first (which was written later) but I had a bit of a hard time following this story. I mention the The Broken Lands again for two reasons, one I wonder how much of this world's mythology Milford had thought out when she wrote The Boneshaker and how much of it came later (since TBL delves much more deeply into some stories which were hinted at here) and two, the writing just seemed off here. The prose didn't seem nearly as strong, I had a hard time following some of the events and motivations of the characters which shouldn't be happening in a middle grade book considering I'm ten years older than the target audience at least. This makes me sad since I really like the imagination Milford shows here, it's not immediately clear but she has a very cool setting and it's a take on American mythology you don't see very often, focusing on the tall tales and anecdotal stories that every town seems to know instead of something grand or by just borrowing European fairy tales and replanting them. Another thing I really liked was how Milford handled the confrontation between the "forces of good and evil" as they were in the book, it was a bit reminiscent of Diane Duane's Young Wizard series which has a running theme that you must do whatever is in your power to fight what's wrong even though it always comes with a price. That was certainly the case here and Natalie's struggle and ultimate choice to try and save the town no matter what it involved and how it might hurt her was one of the best things about the book, the choice had a depth to it that I don't usually see in middle grade or YA literature because you could tell that even though it was a clear choice it wasn't an easy one because of how much she cared about it.And yet, I have a hard time recommending this book because the story just doesn't work as well as it should and it's hard to recommend a work of prose where the very writing is a weak point. I still recommend The Broken Lands, and want to read the new novella associated with them ("The Kairos Mechanism" I believe, very curious where Milford plans to eventually take these stories) but perhaps you should read this one first and then TBL so that the story gets stronger, not weaker and the setting even more detailed.