The Lost Kingdom

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
The Lost Kingdom Book Poster Image
Exciting frontier adventure with steampunk fantasy twist.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value
Real historical figures and events are blended with fantasy (the author provides a helpful note to clarify the historical record). Readers may want to learn more about Leyden jars, Francesco Lana de Terzi's flying boat, and other elements of the plot. The Bartrams are absorbed with botany and discuss the the names and characteristics of several plants. Ben Franklin and a very young George Washington both have cameos, and Billy Bartram and his father are real figures connected with the American Philosophical Society. The myth of Madoc is rooted in the true history of the American frontier. 
 
Positive Messages

Billy is ashamed of his father's ugly beliefs but is able to reconcile them as part of the whole of a man. Much of the story's action is propelled by violence, or the threat of violence, but the takeaway message about peace and learning to live together.

Positive Role Models & Representations
As Billy discovers his father's less admirable traits, he openly challenges him. Both he and Jane defy orders from adults trying to keep them safe. Billy ultimately stands up for what is right and just, and finds a way to embrace his father without ignoring his faults. Andrew is treated very poorly by Billy's dad but still risks his life for the elder Bartram and his companions. Selfish, impulsive individual actions have terrible consequences for the entire expedition.
 
Violence & Scariness
Characters face real peril, and some are injured and killed in battle, accidents, and encounters with a bear-wolf. The expedition sets out unarmed and is joined by a translator who brings a gun. They seek Madoc's people as allies in the anticipated war with the French, and are pursued by French soldiers. One character is held captive.
 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Lost Kingdom is a fantasy rooted in American history. The mingling of fact and fiction may confuse young readers, who should read the author's note at the end to be sure they're clear on what really happened. Set during the buildup to the French and Indian War, it confronts racial prejudice and, to a lesser degree, gender stereotyping.
 

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What's the story?

In 1753, war with the French seems inevitable. Billy Bartram joins his botanist father and a company of extraordinarily smart men -- the American Philosophical Society -- on a journey west to search for rumored Welsh settlements in hopes of securing allies for the colonies. With both Capt. Paul Marin and his French soldiers and then a bear-wolf in relentless pursuit, the party flies on the airship the de Terzi. Treachery, suspicion, selfishness, and accidents bedevil the group. For Billy, however, the greatest challenge is reconciling his admiration for his father with his shame over the older man's narrow beliefs.

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Is it any good?

Author Matthew Kirby brushes some of the dust off adventure tales of the American frontier with his engaging steampunk fantasy. Mastodons and giant bear-wolves thunder through a wilderness still so vast and unknown that it might very well conceal a mysterious tribe of Welsh-speaking Indians. The history behind this tale is intriguing enough, however, that it might trump fantasy: Readers probably will be eager to understand more about Leyden jars, the Madoc legend, de Terzi, and the many scientific ideas and myths touched on in the book. (Kirby includes a note explaining where fact and fiction diverge.)
While the backdrop is the looming French and Indian War, the more compelling conflicts involve Billy and his renowned botanist father, and the friction between the older civilizations in the New World and the assertive newcomers. 
 
 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the story's blend of fantasy and historical fact. Does this make history more engaging, or more confusing? How would the story have been different if it relied entirely on fictional characters?

  • The Lost Kingdom can be described as steampunk, a type of science fiction that blends the old and the new. Have you read any other steampunk stories? What do you think makes steampunk so appealing?

  • Try the same technique yourself: Write a short fantasy based on an historical event or figure.

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