Publish Date: May 24, 2010
Book Design: Sharismar Rodriguez
Illustrations: Andrea Offermann
The story is set in 1913, which gives it a steampunk edge, in my opinion. The book is listed by Amazon as grades 6-8. I don't know, some kids might be able to hang in there for the detailed characters and the fantastical machinery, but I would say this is more of an 14 years and older book.
Natalie Minks is a 13 year old girl and very interested in automata and other machines. Automata is defined as:
1. (Engineering / General Engineering) a mechanical device operating under its own hidden power; robot2. a person who acts mechanically or leads a routine monotonous life
Both of these definitions are important to the story. Natalie's father is the town mechanic and her mother is somewhat of a storyteller, who can't cook. Everytime she cooks, she starts telling stories and burns whatever she's making.
The town doctor leaves to help the next town with an epidemic and in his absence, things begin to happen. A drifter wanders into town, a traveling medicine show arrives with a broken wagon wheel and Natalie is still trying to learn to ride her bike. Natalie and her Dad fixed up the bike, it's supposed to go super fast, because it's hinged in the middle. Her Dad tells her that no matter how fast it goes, due to the way it's built, it will be a boneshaker.
Everyone in town treats the medicine show as a sort of carnival and willingly buys their products. Natalie, however, starts 'seeing' things and knows that things are just not right. It would seem that there are lots of secrets just below the surface of the town of Arcane.
The story and characters remind me very much of Ray Bradbury's SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES. The characters are very well-drawn - Dr. Jake Limberleg and his associates really stand out in my mind and you can easily sense the urgency that Natalie feels as the story moves along. I couldn't put the book down, it kept drawing me back. Quite honestly, it's sitting next to my desk right now, even though I've been done reading it for a few days. I just can't stop looking at the cover and the illustrations! They really add to the overall story. I can't wait to read more by Kate Milford!