A Dastardly Plot: A Perilous Journey of Danger & Mayhem, Book 1

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
A Dastardly Plot: A Perilous Journey of Danger & Mayhem, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Zany retro adventure tackles discrimination, evil schemes.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

As title suggests, story is awash in vocabulary-building words, many with 19th-century flavor. Expect big words like "nefarious," "excruciating." Lots of references to books popular in 19th century, including Treasure Island, works of Jules Verne. Story takes place in alternate version of New York in 1883, with lots of references to (often real) events, people of the time, as well as laws like Chinese Exclusion Act and their real-life impact on people. Section at end explains historical references, a bit about some of the real-life characters.

Positive Messages

Strong messages of kindness, empathy, family, friendship, creative thinking. Also being able to change your mind when you get new information, and seeing thing from new viewpoints: "Molly had heard people make awful, hateful comments about Chinese immigrants, read them in newspapers even. She'd never believed the horrible generalizations or understood why people said such things, but she'd also never thought about what it would feel like to hear them if you were Chinese."

Positive Role Models & Representations

Feisty 12-year-old Molly and new friend Emmett are both older than their years thanks to ongoing fight for survival, and in Molly's case, need to protect her brilliant but odd mother. They display a lot of courage, thinking outside the box, and determination as their bond develops and they learn to see things from each other's perspective. Both long-lost fathers live on in their kids' hearts and are much missed for their kindness, wisdom. Cassandra, Molly's eccentric mom, is brilliant, courageous, much frustrated by sexist culture of science/technology in her time. Burglary, theft, dodging authorities are frequent, but often on the side of good.

Violence & Scariness

A mad genius plans to seize world power with assorted murderous plots. The death (and possible murder) of parents is a strong theme, as both kids have lost their fathers, Emmett's mother died in childbirth, and Molly's mom is in one life-threatening situation after another. Brain-blasting technology and assorted death machines (some of which may not actually exist, even in the story) play a starring role, and a character is threatened with weaponized electroshock therapy after being taken to an insane asylum.



One character is fond of exclaiming "Language!" if she even thinks someone is going to use a bad word. As a result, the occasional "Darn!" is about as strong as it gets. References to hideouts being "urine-y."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that there's a lot to like in A Dastardly Plot, the first book in a new series by Christopher Healy (The Hero's Guide series). Set in an alternative 19th-century New York, it has quirky characters! Quirkier dialogue! Retro science fiction! Mad inventors! Applied science and emerging technology! Also a lot of history and culture, especially about discrimination against women and Chinese people at the time. There's a serious vibe beneath the cartoonish antics, with heavy subjects like the death of parents, imprisonment  in a mental asylum, and forced shock treatments being part of the story. It's wacky, poignant, and rousing by turns, which is a bit much to take in sometimes. The conclusion sets up what promises to be many adventures to come.

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What's the story?

It's 1883 in New York. Molly and Emmett, a couple of poor but resourceful 12-year-olds, stumble upon A DASTARDLY PLOT -- though they're not sure whether it involves robots, death machines, or some other villainous doings. Also unknown, just exactly what inventors Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison have to do with this. It all has something to do with the upcoming New York World's Fair, which is a sore subject because Molly's inventor mom isn't allowed to show her work there. Things keep getting crazier, as a thick-accented Scottish crime lord and his henchmen, a society of women inventors, a mad scientist, and a posse of singing robots get into the act.

Is it any good?

Christopher Healy launches a wild new series set in 1883 New York, with two resourceful 12-year-olds trying to save the world from wacky inventors. Or maybe help the inventors save the world. The orphan police, the immigration authorities, and two warring gangs of inept criminals add to the craziness, as do a society of (unsung) women inventors and the kids' other allies in foiling A Dastardly Plot. Not all readers will have the patience for all the looniness, with a side of social justice, but there are some great moments setting the stage for future plot developments.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about stories that are set in a different time and place but deal with things that are also important today.  Do the problems Molly and Emmett deal with in A Dastardly Plot resemble things that happen to you and your friends? Does seeing them in a story give you a different perspective on your own situation?

  • What do you know about historic characters in this book, like Chester A. Arthur (who's the U.S. president at the time) and inventors Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell? Do you want to find out more about them after reading this?

  • When you've been treated unfairly, and then you find out other people you know are getting the same treatment, does that make it better or worse? Does it give you better options for fixing the problem?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love science fiction and historical adventure

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