A young woman with the ability to see auras, seeking her mother’s freedom, discovers that with great power comes even greater danger in Schaumberg’s steampunk-lite, historical debut.
White, 16-year-old Avery Kohl’s life has steadily unraveled since the day her mother was imprisoned in an asylum called the Temple of Mind Balance Studies—the titular Tombs—three years ago. Thrown with her father into poverty that requires Avery to work as a welder, Avery is terrified that she has inherited her mother’s visions and affliction; now, after a bizarre explosion at the ironworks, Avery’s visions become impossible to ignore. With help from a diverse secondary cast including the black, formerly enslaved Khan (sadly exoticized—a literal “magical Negro”) and a troupe of Romani travelers, Avery sets out to embrace her power as an aura healer (someone who can see and manipulate living energy and emotions) and free her mother from the clutches of a corrupt and treacherous scientist. Schaumberg has crafted a rich and gritty 1880s New York while infusing the historical with enough of the speculative to land it just this side of steampunk. The result falls unfortunately flat, however, with plot-stalling lags in exposition, underdeveloped plotlines and character motivations, and a disappointing lack of follow-through on efforts at representation of disability and racial diversity. The gratuitous appearances of the slur “Gypsy,” while historically relevant, emphasize the conspicuous absence of any other contemporaneously common racial slurs in the text.
Not a must-have. (author’s note) (Historical fantasy. 14-17)