Reviews: Mysteries of Cove: Fires of Invention

Fires of Invention by J. Scott Savage (Shadow Mountain, Expected Publication, September 2015)

Folks, there are books, that even if you can’t judge them by their cover, they give you some huge smacking clues about what’s in the book. Like steampunk?  Like dragons?  Like steampunk dragons?  Then by golly, I think this may well be your thing!  Methinks the cool cover is bound to interest a lot of readers all on its own, but now let’s take a look at the story.

Welcome to Cove, a steam-powered city built inside a mountain. Trenton Coleman is a kid living in this city, where invention is forbidden and creativity discouraged.  But he can’t help but want to tinker with things, to think of improvements that would make machines work better or faster or safer.  He curious and gifted with a knack for invention. . . and that  can lead to trouble.  When Trenton  discovers an unapproved item in the mines–something unlike anything he’s ever seen, rather than turn it in or destroy it immediately, he keeps it.  He’s not sure what it does, but he’s curious enough to want to figure it out.  Kallista Babbage is the daughter of one of the most infamous men in Cove.  Her father, Leo Babbage was a mechanic and an inventor who died in an explosion that the City blamed him for.  But he left behind a set of clues for his daughter to follow–only Trenton has the very first piece.  To solve her father’s riddles and discover the answers he left behind, she’ll need Trenton’s help.  Together, the two of them will explore the levels of Cove and find out what secrets Cove is guarding, and what her father ultimately built.

I admit, the cover is a bit of a spoiler straight out.  Because the entire first few chapters, you’re thinking “when is the dragon going to come into this?”  Readers will quickly figure out that the cylinders Kallista and Trenton are assembling into a claw must be part of the dragon from the cover.  Our heroes don’t know this yet, of course. (They speculate Leo Babbage was building a giant chicken).    However, this is hardly the kind of spoiler that ruins the enjoyment of reading the story.   I found the dystopian setting combined with a scavenger hunt for clues and pieces really worked well.  The author doesn’t simply create an oppressive city for a background setting, but as a real interactive character in the whole book.  The propaganda and control that the central government has over the populace is pretty firm, so that Trenton’s flouting of the rules to hunt for pieces and clues puts him always at risk of being found out and in trouble for it.  Still, the overall world is not one of grim oppression and unhappiness–there’s room here for fun and hope that is in no way sinister.  I found the story felt “old-school” to me, but in a good way.  I read any number of stories back as a kid where youngsters are pushing against rules in their home place, seeking to discover the truths that have been hidden.  This is lively, interesting and makes you want to keep turning pages to see how things will play out.  What the characters ultimately discover about Cove and the truth behind it’s founding threw me a little.  My mind had been treating this as a rather strictly science fiction story, but the final discoveries in the book led me to reconsider that.  I won’t give things away here, but I did not predict what our protagonists discovered.

The author’s strength’s are in creating engaging characters that the reader wants to follow and root for.  Trenton is an easily sympathetic fellow, even if he can be less than considerate much of the time.  At thirteen, what kid is an angel?  His frustration at his skills for mechanical things being stymied when he’s assigned to farming is palpable.  The fact that his mother doesn’t want him working with machines and that at times Trenton doesn’t realize how smart his father really is  makes his parents seem real–not just cut out  stereotypes.  The tension between Trenton and his mother is quite possibly one of the things that is most significant in this story.  So often parents are one dimensional, but here we see Trenton’s mom as someone who has been traumatized, and it’s colored her view of the world.  She cares about her son, but can’t accept his ambitions when they mean he will be at risk.

Kallista is a strong, smart and capable girl who is equally likable despite her temper and distrust.  She’s lonely, and though she rebuffs Trenton at times, she ultimately realizes she enjoys spending time with him.  Both of our protagonists are gifted mechanics who know their way around tools–this is delightful to see, especially for Kallista.  My only real complaint in the character area may be that I found the romantic interactions and motivations a little too cliched for my taste.  Trenton’s looking to impress a girl at the opening of the story.  Later on, after he meets Kallista he becomes so involved in their project that he is literally clueless to every hint dropped by the same girl that she likes him.  She practically has to hit him over the head to clue him in.  Meanwhile, he’s becoming wrapped up in feelings for Kallista–creating a love triangle situation that ultimately leads to trouble.  Of all the types of relationships, falling back on this one felt out of place in such a fresh and exciting story.

I think this is an excellent steampunk urban fantasy/science fiction tale.  It’s a marvelous mix of the genres without apology for jumping between them.  It’s an ideal middle grade read that should appeal to a wide range of readers, and likely introduce them to some genre concepts they haven’t encountered before.  I’m looking forward to reading the next installment in the Mysteries of Cove series.

Note: An advanced copy was provided by the publisher.

Publisher:Shadow Mountain

Publication Date: September 2015

ISBN13:   9781629720920

Recommended for grades 4 and up.

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About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on June 26, 2015, in General Posts, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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