Cogheart by Peter Bunzl
I spotted this last week in the Windsor Waterstones, and because it looked similar to my upcoming The Girl With Two Souls – though also because it did look like it might be a good read from the blurb on the back cover – I bought it. And it is a good read!
The setting is an alternate Victorian England, where concealed inventor’s daughter Lily and vertigo-suffering clockmaker’s son Robert both live. Following a bit of a to-do at the school she has been sent to (under an assumed name), Lily finds herself caught up in a fast-moving plot involving two nasty toughs, Roach & Mould, and a mystery sourced in the mechanical marvels devised by her father. After a terrible set-back, she meets Robert and snooty mechanical fox Malkin, to begin a helter skelter chase across a dark Victorian Britain. The plot basics are flagged up, but not obviously, and there is plenty to think about along the way.
This is a really good debut novel. The plot rarely lets up once it’s got going, and the steampunk tropes are light and well used. It’s aimed at readers around 9 to 12, but this shouldn’t stop you reading it if you like a page-turner. Flaws are few – the opening quarter is a bit slow to get going, and Mrs Rust’s “cogwheels and conundrums!” do become a little wearing – but these are minor faults and can be fixed in the sequel Moonlocket, which is out next year.
All in all, an auspicious debut, which I much enjoyed. It seems steampunk still has a lot going for it; and given that the author is a film maker, we should probably expect a pretty stunning film version at some point.