I received an ARC of this book in exchange for a review. Cogheart releases on the 12th of Februrary, keep reading if you want to know whether it’s the sort of book you’d like to read.
First a disclaimer—this is middle grade fiction (ie. for younger readers), I enjoyed it, but if you exclusively read books aimed at teenagers or adults, you might not enjoy this book. There is no swearing, romance or excessive violence. Now on to the review!
Thirteen-year-old Lily Harman always dreamed of adventure. A strong-willed girl, Lily felt trapped in a life of Victorian stuffiness at her prim boarding school. But after her father-a famous inventor-disappears on a routine zeppelin flight, Lily’s life gets turned upside down. Now cared for by her guardian, the heartless Madame Verdigris, Lily is quite certain that she’s being watched. Mysterious, silver-eyed men are lurking in the shadows, just waiting for their chance to strike. But what could they possibly want from her? There are rumors, Lily learns, that her father had invented the most valuable invention ever made-a perpetual motion machine. But if he made such a miraculous discovery, he certainly never told Lily. And all he left behind is a small box-with no key, no hinges. With the help of a clockmaker’s son, Robert, and her mechanimal fox, Malkin, Lily escapes London in search of the one person who might know something about her father’s disappearance-and what he left behind.
I love the cover, it reminds me of a pop-up book and is definitely the sort of thing I’d have reached for as a child. The colours are great, the plot is hinted at, and there’s a picture of Malkin!
The characters are the real star in Cogheart, they are interesting while still being relatable, with believable motivations and behaviour. Lily was intelligent and capable, and if she seemed a little naïve at times, that’s probably appropriate for her age. My only complaint is that at times she seemed ineffective, and her relationship with the household mechanicals seemed a little flat, rather than warm and familial. Her lack of ability in some situations, however, could simply be put down to her age, and I still enjoyed reading about Lily’s exploits.
Robert was an interesting character, it was a refreshing change of pace to read a boy that was openly afraid of things, while still being courageous. The book sets up several possibilities for the continuation of Robert’s storyline, and I think it would be interesting to see which path ends up being taken. Lily and Robert worked well together, and the way Malkin and Robert interacted was a pleasure to read. Malkin is hands-down1 my favourite character in the book, something about a snarky, mechanical fox is just fun, and that’s exactly what encourages children to become lifelong readers.
The world developed in Cogheart isn’t quite as detailed as I’m used to, though for middle grade I believe it has fairly typical levels of world-building. There were a few tongue-in-cheek references throughout the book, with a nod at one point to Asimov’s first law of robotics. I liked the subtle touches used to differentiate the steampunk world in which the book occurs from our own, with creative mechanically-themed curses, mechanical limbs for war veterans, and air ship parking tickets. I was glad that the mechanicals had emotions and personalities, making the sinister hints of cog and bone men who steal and trade mechanical parts a hair-raising threat to several key characters.
The foreshadowing in this book was somewhat heavy, and the key plot events seemed to resolve quite easily, but again, for middle-grade, this is to be expected. The writing was good, the world enjoyable, and the finale was suitably cinematic and exciting, with the dastardly villain getting his comeuppance.
I was reminded at times of Gail Carriger’s Finishing School series, which I thoroughly enjoyed; and the world was also reminiscent of Philip Pullman’s classic His Dark Materials series. Fans of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events or Frank Tuttle’s Paths of Shadow books would also likely find something they enjoyed among the pages of Cogheart, as would any children who enjoy brave heroines and heroes unafraid to stand up for what they believe in. And of course, the mechanical fox is a plus.
1Should that be paws-down?