A pleasing, if somewhat derivative, fantasy with a sprinkling of steampunk.


An orphan gets a chance to play a knight in this middle-grade novel.

Orphan Theo Paxstone works in Master Grimes’ steam mech repair shop, but at night he dreams of running away and becoming one of Adyron’s celebrated steam knights: “The knights were the guardians of the kingdom, and kept it safe from monsters.” The best Theo and his sidekick—the shop’s talking cockatoo, Ollie—can hope for is to sneak away to watch the knights parade into town for the royal tournament. But when a rogue dragon appears and torches the tournament grounds, Theo springs into action, helping to repair a broken mech and rescue a trapped knight. As a reward, Sir Bentham purchases Theo’s freedom (and Ollie’s as well). Theo has the opportunity to serve along with Sir Bentham’s surly squire, Riley, though the orphan quickly learns that his new master has a less-than-sterling reputation. The dragon who attacked the tournament kidnapped the king’s daughter, so Theo and his new friends take up the call to rescue her. They aren’t the only ones: Sir Drake, the most famous knight in Adyron (and Theo’s personal hero), also decides to hunt the creature. Challenging a dragon is a nearly suicidal feat for Theo, even with his mech knowhow and Sir Bentham’s fearless (or insane) tenacity. But there are further dangers as their quest leads them to discover dynastic secrets and political plots that threaten the stability of the entire realm. Turner (Rebel Angels, 2013) writes in an easy-to-read prose that manifests Theo’s enthusiasm for the world of steam knights, particularly the gadgetry associated with their mech steeds: “More mighty mechs lumbered past, banners fluttering from their copper antennae. Inside each sat a knight in a gyroscope-stabilized cockpit, set in the front of the chassis, ahead of the thrumming engine.” The geography and culture of Adyron are boilerplate fantasy fare (with some particular indebtedness to George R.R. Martin). What Turner brings to the table is the steampunk element of the impressive, dragon-battling mech suits. For some, this will be enough to keep them interested in Theo’s journey, though more traditional fantasy fans may find the gearhead talk a bit boring. While the characters fit comfortably into archetypes, some manage to shine despite this, including Theo and, particularly, Sir Bentham. The author’s dialogue enlivens the story with wit and color, as do his skilled black-and-white illustrations. Not much in the plot is completely unanticipated (though Riley turns out to have more surprises than expected at the outset). Even so, the world of Adyron should grow on the audience as the intricate back stories of the various parties begin to reveal themselves. For readers, the probability of further adventures with Theo and his friends will likely seem a delightful proposition. Full of dangerous flights, mistaken identities, and kids who show incredulous grown-ups that they are more than able to handle themselves, Theo’s tale should satisfy young readers looking for a bit of speculative escapism.

A pleasing, if somewhat derivative, fantasy with a sprinkling of steampunk.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2017


Page Count: 412

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 4, 2018

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The years pass by at a fast and steamy clip in Blume’s latest adult novel (Wifey, not reviewed; Smart Women, 1984) as two friends find loyalties and affections tested as they grow into young women. In sixth grade, when Victoria Weaver is asked by new girl Caitlin Somers to spend the summer with her on Martha’s Vineyard, her life changes forever. Victoria, or more commonly Vix, lives in a small house; her brother has muscular dystrophy; her mother is unhappy, and money is scarce. Caitlin, on the other hand, lives part of the year with her wealthy mother Phoebe, who’s just moved to Albuquerque, and summers with her father Lamb, equally affluent, on the Vineyard. The story of how this casual invitation turns the two girls into what they call "Summer sisters" is prefaced with a prologue in which Vix is asked by Caitlin to be her matron of honor. The years in between are related in brief segments by numerous characters, but mostly by Vix. Caitlin, determined never to be ordinary, is always testing the limits, and in adolescence falls hard for Von, an older construction worker, while Vix falls for his friend Bru. Blume knows the way kids and teens speak, but her two female leads are less credible as they reach adulthood. After high school, Caitlin travels the world and can’t understand why Vix, by now at Harvard on a scholarship and determined to have a better life than her mother has had, won’t drop out and join her. Though the wedding briefly revives Vix’s old feelings for Bru, whom Caitlin is marrying, Vix is soon in love with Gus, another old summer friend, and a more compatible match. But Caitlin, whose own demons have been hinted at, will not be so lucky. The dark and light sides of friendship breathlessly explored in a novel best saved for summer beachside reading.

Pub Date: May 8, 1998

ISBN: 0-385-32405-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1998

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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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