Internecine squabbles fill this first book in a series.
Returning to Ireland after an African adventure, 18-year-old Nathaniel Wildenstern captures and tames the Beast of Glenmalure, a motorcyclelike “engimal” (mechanical animal), intending to ride home in glory. But his brother Marcus’ “accidental” death and the explosion at Marcus’ burial force Nate to assume (unwanted) responsibility and attract (warranted) suspicion. Tasked with learning the family business, Nate ignores paperwork in favor of finding Marcus’ killer. Their near-superhuman healing abilities make Wildensterns hard to kill, but their prodigious wealth and nigh-royal power make them targets—among one another and for their impoverished tenant farmers as well as four long-lost Wildensterns. Nate and his fellow young protagonists share the narrative spotlight in dizzying and unsignaled succession, yet they are underdeveloped and often unsympathetic. Sparse historical details, slow pacing, and a claustrophobic setting make this more austere science fiction than spirited steampunk; an unnecessary heist subplot complicates but barely contributes to the story. While Nate uncovers Marcus’ killer, the mysterious origins of the engimals and the Wildensterns’ healing powers wait to be resolved in the sequels. Despite intense action sequences and comic-relief robots, McGann’s focus on tradition, power, and primogeniture makes this a read that may appeal more to adults than teenagers.
A slow story of a dysfunctional dynasty with little plot but a lot of plotting. (Science fiction. 14 & up)