I loved this one! Imagine a book that is part steam punk, part dystopia, part fantasy, and part fairy tale, and then imagine some really scary Lovecraft type monsters, some fantastic characters, and a bit of some classic Gothic themes. Then you might be on your way to understanding the uniqueness of this story.
It took me a little while to get into it because there was no dumbed down explanations for all the crazy happenings of this world that Aoife lives in. You kind of have to get used to some of the steam punk lingo and descriptions, and take in all the hardships of the world as you go along. I ended up liking this a lot because I tend to feel like if there’s too much explanation in the beginning, the author doesn’t trust the readers to understand things. Kittredge definitely trusts her readers.
The dystopia steam punk society Aoife presides herself in is all about reason and science. Anyone that questions reason, reads a fairy tale, looks like they have been infected by the virus that drives people mad, or does anything non-scientific, gets charged with being a heretic, and usually ends up being burned to death. Isn’t the religion reversal here interesting? If you believe in God, you burn; the society only wants people to believe in science. And religion is grouped together with fairy tales.
But how does science explain the Lovecraft type creatures that go bump in the night? They are apparently people who have been greatly damaged by the virus that the city is trying to protect everyone from. Also, like in most dystopias, girls have the short end of the stick. Aoife is actually the only girl to make it to her engineering academy. She gets a lot of rude remarks about being a smart girl. But, it becomes very clear that she’s used to all the rudeness form those around her because she’s a ward of the state, technically born a bastard, has a mother in a mental asylum, a crazy brother who tried to kill her, and an inevitable sink to madness herself. Everyone in her family goes mad at the age of sixteen. And she’s trying to spend as much time doing what she loves as she can before she goes nuts, which pretty much involves working with engines, hanging out with her friend, Cal, and visiting her mother.
The story really starts when she gets a letter from her brother, who has been MIA from his mental institution. She and Cal run away from the academy (followed by ravens and proctors who want to catch as many heretics as possible), to go to her father’s estate. She’s never been there or even met her father, but that’s where her brother’s letter told her to go. She and Cal escape death many times on their journey. They hire a guide, Dean, a mysterious, street-smart character you can’t help but fall in love with, and go on airships, escape from flesh eating monsters, and find Aoife’s fathers estate.
There, Aoife gets involved with other worlds, fairies, mysteries of her family, and then discovers her weird (aka: super power that connects her to machines). She’s given an impossible task that will require her to return to the world she just escaped from. There’s romance, there’s demon dens, pipe work, giant engines, secret rooms, magic, family drama, a couple of twists (that I did catch on to, but only because of how many fairy stories I read). And the fate of a lot of people rests on Aoife’s shoulders, all while she has a very limited time before she knows her mind will go.
The book is fast-paced. And while the monsters and fairies make this dystopia a little less believable than others, it certainly made this one a lot of fun! I liked how strong Aoife was. She was just the right amount strong and the right amount doubtful. A small part of her always wanted to be a “good girl” and blend in and listen to all the lies her leaders had fed her, but the independent, intelligent part of her always seemed to hold out the winner in all of her inner conflicts.
I loved Dean! I sort of imagined him as a mixture of George from Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books, Peter Pan, and Dodger from Oliver Twist. Cal, the best friend was not as loveable for me. I liked his story and I certainly was not expecting the twist that involved him, yet he was just too whiny for me (too much like Simon from City of Bones). And I know I’m doing a lot of YA comparisons here. It’s just so hard not to when an author combines so many different elements like this. There were some definite Harry Potter elements as well, particularly with a certain journal and some memories that Aoife received.
But, Kittredge handles all the intermingling of genres and themes beautifully. There’s a lot of layers to her book, always a lot of things going on. And at times (especially in the beginning) I was expected to take in almost too much information. But, she managed to do this “too much information” in a way that worked. I really enjoyed reading this and getting something so unique! And I am about to get started on the sequel. I give this one a 10/10.