Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times Book Poster Image
Clockwork fantasy adventure is delightful but a bit dark.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational value

Kids will learn a little about the history and geography of London, particularly about Big Ben and Westminster Palace, and they'll learn a little about how windup (clockwork) things work.

Positive messages

The time you have with your family is precious, so make the most of it while you can. Achieving your goals takes a lot of hard work, and you can't give up if it doesn't work out at first. People need something to hope for.

Positive role models & representations

Jack, who's almost 11, is a smart, resourceful boy who wants to know how things work. His feelings of loneliness lead him to look for adventure outside the home and stay in the magical Londinium forever. At first he thinks he hates his mother because she's emotionally distant and won't let him do what he wants, but he eventually learns that he belongs with his family and that being emotionally close is a two-way street. Friends Beth and Arabella are automatons, but they model loyalty and bravery. Adults run the gamut from helpful and caring to villainous.

Violence & scariness

Fantasy violence is infrequent but scary and emotionally powerful when it does happen. Most victims of violence are automatons, but they have souls and seem human. Blood's mentioned a few times but not described -- once from a hard slap, once from a battle injury -- and it's used once as a simile ("to run like blood in the gutters"). Oil is drained from a wind-up fairy as though it were blood. Execution by hanging is described vaguely. An automaton is thrown from a window and broken to bits.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times is a steampunk fantasy that doesn't have a lot of violence, but what's there is emotionally powerful. Blood is mentioned a few times, executions by hanging are described vaguely, and villains are powerful and scary. The atmosphere of the alternative world Londinium is mysterious and a bit dark, but it's also very intriguing and in the end is uplifted when hope is restored to the people. Hero Jack is a good role model whose conscience guides him to do the right things. Adults drinking brandy are mentioned a few times.

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What's the story?

Young Jack, who's almost 11 in the London of 1899, follows a mysterious visitor through a magic doorway. On the other side he finds a fantastic parallel world in which nearly everyone and everything is mechanical in some way -- a dream come true for a kid who's always wanted to know how things work. Ruling over Londinium is the beautiful and powerful Lady, who's chosen Jack to be her new, perfect, human son and brings him to the palace to live with her. If Jack ever wants to return home, his only hope is to find the legendary Gearwing, a magical clockwork bird with the power to grant any wish.

Is it any good?

Emma Trevayne's novel is a delightful, atmospheric, clockwork fantasy that will draw kids into an adventure that combines mystery, excitement, and mechanical marvel. Kids will easily relate to hero Jack's feelings of loneliness and eagerness to learn more about the world around him. The writing has an intriguing rhythm and clever descriptive power that can both draw kids in to read on their own and be fun for adults to read aloud.

Steampunk elements abound, but even if that genre's not your thing, the compelling and charming characters, well-constructed story, and vividly realized fantasy world will appeal to anyone with a sense of adventure and a curiosity about how things work.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why fantasies are so popular. Why do we enjoy reading them so much? How does this book compare with other fantasies you've read?

  • Do the illustrations help you imagine the world you were reading about? How do they compare with the way you pictured things in your mind? 

  • If you could visit a fantasy world like Londinium, would you want to? Would you want to stay there forever, the way Jack did at first?

Book details

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