A steampunk thriller uses Victorian science as a framework for cinematic monster goofiness in 1838 London.
It's been six months since 15-year-old Julius Caesar Higgins' last time-travel adventure (Julius and the Watchmaker, 2014), but it seems he has to save the world yet again. Together with his guttersnipe BFF, Emily, Julius has to defeat a passel of villains perfect for animation: tiny, odd-faced Mr. Tock; a pair of comical-but-dangerous thugs, one short and solid, the other tall and "thin as a workhouse dog" with a face "like a stalactite"; Abigail, the murderous automaton made of forks and knives and pocket watches, like a 10-foot praying mantis crossed with a spider; and countless ambulatory, zombifying, soul-catching orchids that pull themselves from their pots and chase their victims. In a twist, they travel through time and temporarily look like “native” children in a village in Brazil, “gone all brown.” (The characters otherwise all appear to be white; Emily speaks in exaggerated, spelled-out lower-class English: "Frough wot?"; "I wasn't planning on nicking naffing.") There they visit Charles Darwin, who in history at this point was visiting local botanical gardens and documenting insects but who here is ineffectually rescuing nonverbal native children from the soul-catchers, which leave their hosts planted husks, like some sort of Anne Geddes or Giuseppe Arcimboldo portrait gone horrifically wrong. Julius’ self-talk, printed in italics, peppers the text: “Concentrate, Higgins.”
The book closes with drama enough for a sequel; action-happy readers will be hoping for it. (Steampunk. 11-13)