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by Matthew Kirby

Age Range: 9 - 14

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-545-20337-1
Publisher: Scholastic

Three poor children leading separate lives find friendship and marvel in a late-19th-century alternative-American city. Orphaned Giuseppe was sold from Italy to a brutal, Fagin-like padrone, who runs a ring of buskers. Frederick, also an orphan, is apprenticed to a kindly clockmaker but is haunted by his time in an orphanage. Hannah's father has been felled by a stroke, and it's up to Hannah to support the family. The third-person-limited narrative shifts from child to child, resulting in an Altman-esque opening. Giuseppe finds a magical violin; Frederick toils to build an automaton; Hannah finds a patron at the hotel where she works. Their three paths intersect, and they become friends, each trying to help the others and running afoul of various adversaries in the process. Kirby seems to be drawing on both mysticism and steampunk to drive his story, and neither element really settles into coherence. The kids are likable, but, oddly, they become less interesting once their stories intertwine, and the outcome is too obvious. An interesting concept, but it needed a little more time to come together. (Steampunk. 9-14)