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.