Author: James R Hannibal
Genre: Fantasy, Middle School, Steampunk
Series: #1 in the Section 13 series
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
First Published: November 8, 2016
First Line: "A pair of rather large, blue-green beetles buzzed north over the River Thames, weaving back and forth over the water's surface in that haphazard pattern that beetles fly."
Book Description from GoodReads: James R. Hannibal presents a thrilling adventure through history, complete with mysteries, secret items, codes, and a touch of magic in this stunning middle grade debut.
Thirteen-year-old Jack Buckles is great at finding things. Not just a missing glove or the other sock, but things normal people have long given up on ever seeing again. If only he could find his father, who has disappeared in London without a trace.
But Jack’s father was not who he claimed to be. It turns out that he was a member of a secret society of detectives that has served the crown for centuries—and membership into the Lost Property Office is Jack’s inheritance.
Now the only way Jack will ever see his father again is if he finds what the nefarious Clockmaker is after: the Ember, which holds a secret that has been kept since the Great Fire of London. Will Jack be able to find the Ember and save his father, or will his talent for finding things fall short?
My Rating: 3 stars
My Review: I chose to read this book because it sounded pretty cool. I liked the mystery and magical aspects and, honestly, the distinctive square shape of the book with its beautiful cover featuring a blue-green beetle caught my eye as well.
This is a middle school read that is a combination of steam punk, historical fiction, fantasy and DaVinci Code type adventure. There are robotic scarabs, hidden passages, cool machines, the inclusion of some real historical events (namely The Great Fire of London in 1666) and even some magical elements. It's got a lot going on and I was intrigued.
It has an interesting premise with Jack finding out he has special powers which he must use to locate a mysterious artifact to find his missing father. This is the first book in a new series so there is a lot of world building going on but unfortunately it also gave the book quite a convoluted feel, especially in the first half of the book.
My feeling on this book can be summed up by 'meh'. I liked some parts but it was missing that special something. I spent the first third of the book trying to grasp the ideas of 'sparking' and 'tracking' (I sort of kind of got it but it was more complicated than I think it had to be). The middle third dragged and the last third, especially the last 60 pages or so, was where the action ramped up a notch.
My 'meh' feeling also stems from the fact that it was too light on character development. Sure, there's some good banter between Jack and Gwen but we really don't get to know them (and hardly see Sadie, Jack's sister, at all). The nefarious Clockmaker wasn't featured much and came off as a moustache twisting baddie caricature.
I think with a less complicated plot and more time spent on character development I could have really sunk my teeth into this book. I'm hoping that now that readers have a good idea about this unique world the future books in this series will address the characters more because, while this is a good start, this could be a fantastic series for middle school readers.