A cliff-top river town, subterranean tunnels, and gearwork essentials figure in an intriguing steampunk fantasy.
Connor and Cordelia King, ages 11 and 9, have been recently orphaned. Their parents, two men who raised bomb-sniffing capybaras on their ranch, were killed when a capybara training device exploded. Now the children and the only remaining capybara, Kip, have traveled to a small town to live with an aunt. The children quickly realize that Woundabout has a secret. It is curiously inert: there’s no Internet, matches won’t light, the river doesn’t flow, the park is grimly barren, construction sites are vacant, and the mayor regards the arrival of children with deep suspicion and concern. Connor, with his love of things structural and architectural, notices the odd way the town fits together. Cordelia, who loves photography, observes much of the world through the lens of her camera. The town’s name hints at its origin story, meshing gearwork and the four classical elements (earth, air, water, and fire), as well as at a more solemn theme: everyone in Woundabout has been injured in some way; each is looking for healing. Loss, death, and sadness are each acknowledged as a powerful impetus to change. Moments of humor include Aunt Marigold’s inability to remember Kip’s species name (“snappy llama,” “chatty ferret”), while abundant black-and-white illustrations add a friendly note.
Appealing and pleasingly thoughtful. (Fiction. 9-12)