A bored lad experiences adventures that range from wonderful to horrific in a steampunk-y alternative London.
Feeling underappreciated while home from boarding school, nearly-11-year-old Jack Foster eagerly rejects his upper-middle-class existence in late Victorian London, following the mysterious Mr. Lorcan Havelock through a magical doorway into the parallel world of Londinium. Initially, Jack is enthralled by his freedom and his new environment, a “land of brass and steel and clockwork, of steam and airships….” One of his first acquaintances is Dr. Snailwater, an inventor of mechanical human beings. Jack is disappointed that the doctor wants to return Jack to London, and he’s surprised that Snailwater disapproves of Sir Lorcan. The fast-paced, escalating suspense reaches an unexpectedly dark pinnacle when Lorcan’s disembodied voice convinces Jack that recent public hangings will continue until Jack agrees to assume the role of son to the Lady, ruler of Londinium. And that’s just the beginning. It’s packed with so much action, much of it violent, that readers may well feel that the conclusion is nothing but anticlimactic. The novel’s strength lies in worldbuilding and vivid descriptions, and Anglophiles will likely enjoy the historical-cultural references.
For all that the end feels a bit like a flattened Yorkshire pudding, getting there is a thrill a minute. (Fantasy. 8-11)