What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Inventor's Secret by Andrea Cremer (the Nightshade series) is the start of a new sci-fi series in the popular steampunk subgenre. Steampunk, for parents who don't know already, re-imagines history -- usually in the Victorian era, but here it's 1816, and the British won the Revolutionary War. The teen main characters are the children of revolutionaries in hiding and trying to help the cause themselves. They all know how to shoot a gun and wield knives and swords. A few people die that way, with a little gore described. The main character, Charlotte, stabs a man who's "trying to hold the tangle of intestines that peek out from between his splayed fingers." Eww. Some teen characters drink -- Charlotte has champagne at a party and wine at dinner, then a nip of brandy. She also does a bit of passionate kissing that doesn't go beyond roving hands. One minor character works in a brothel "when she gets bored." Language is rarely saucy, with only a handful of "bloody hells" and "damns" and one "shite" spelled like that. Charlotte's a strong female character at a time in history when it's not easy to appear that way. Luckily for her she can dispatch her enemies while rocking a fancy ball gown.
What's the story?
It's 1816. Sixteen-year-old Charlotte, her older brother Ashley, his best friend Jack, and dozens of other kids live hidden in catacombs not far from New York City. When they're 18 they'll join their parents fighting in secret -- their cause moving underground after the American colonists lost the Revolutionary War. Charlotte's the kind of girl who likes the adventure and can handle herself in a fight, even against flesh-eating giant rats. But can she handle herself in a dress, out in New York high society? She's determined to find out when Jack reveals his secret connections to rebels in the city and Ashley wants to meet them. With some coaxing, they agree to take Charlotte to New York, too, hidden in plain sight as an upper-class girl looking for suitors. They also bring along the newest arrival to the catacombs, a strange boy Charlotte found in the woods with no memory of where he came from and the strength of an ox.
Is it any good?
Fans of steampunk know already: It's a big sci-fi party of wild inventions and giant dirigibles. Yes, there's a dirigible. With fancy rooms and strange suction-style elevators. Cool. THE INVENTOR'S SECRET also makes New York City one big crazy invention with floating platforms, one for each caste. Readers will long for a map of the city, but alas. Maybe the sequel will have one. While they're at it, how about some drawings of the inventions and the Pisces submersible?
Oh yeah, there's the story, too. It's easy to get sidetracked, and The Inventor's Secret does, when Charlotte reaches the city and figures out she has strong feelings for Jack. The long romantic aside is worth it, but what happened to the rebellion? Readers don't get to see anything beyond Ashley and Jack rushing off in secret. A hint of what they're planning would be nice, but the cliffhanger at the end will do the trick of drawing readers to the next in the series.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about steampunk. Have you read any before? What do you like about it? Can you imagine all the inventions the author describes? What were your favorites?
What do you think about this re-imagining of history? Had the colonists lost, do you think the Founding Fathers would have met their end that way? What do you think about the other changes the author supposes? Would the British have abolished slavery?
Are you drawn to this series now? Will you read the next book? What do you think will happen to Grave? Charlotte? Jack?