An inventor’s daughter must stop a plot targeting New York City’s World’s Fair in 1883.
Molly Pepper and her widowed mother, Cassandra Pepper, both white, live in their pickle shop while Cassandra creates inventions in the back room. They want to debut Cassandra’s flying machine at the 1883 World Fair, but the Inventor’s Guild, which limits its membership to men, has taken all the exhibition spots. A madcap scheme to find a way into the fair results in an impromptu break-in at the guild’s building, where Molly meets Chinese immigrant Emmett Lee—and where she discovers evidence that indicates that Alexander Graham Bell is scheming to attack the fair with a death machine! Molly and Cassandra conclude that the best way to get the attention that Cassandra and her inventions deserve is for them to become heroes by saving the fair, leading them on a ridiculous journey packed with chase scenes, red herrings, mobsters, monologue-prone villains, and inventions. Besides famous real-life male inventors, important female inventors, including African-American Sarah Goode, also appear, in a secret cabal with a punny (and inevitable) name. The humor ranges from clever wordplay to running gags and cartoonish slapstick. Weaving throughout the outlandish mystery and entertaining wackiness, period gender and racial discrimination experienced by women and Chinese people are mined for tension. Molly’s unintentional microaggressions and Emmett’s status in the face of the Chinese Exclusion Act are both timely elements.
A zany, rollicking series opener. (author’s note) (Historical fantasy. 8-14)