Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Freaks - a review

You know you want to go in!
Just a quick book review on Freaks because my middle-grade book club meets tomorrow and they'll all be clamoring for this one. I'll never see it again after I booktalk it.  (And if that's not a good review, I don't know what is!)

Larwood, Kieran. 2013. Freaks. New York: Chicken House.
(advance reader copy courtesy of the publisher)

If you're not familiar with steampunk, here's a quick primer:

*steam·punk [steem-puhngk]
1.a subgenre of science fiction and fantasy featuring advanced machines and other technology based on steam power of the 19th century and taking place in a recognizable historical period or a fantasy world.
2.a subculture inspired by this literary and film subgenre: the fashions and gadgets of steampunk.
Also, steam punk, steam-punk.
1985–90;  modeled on cyberpunk

A steampunk novel for middle-grade to upper-middle grades, Freaks delivers all the excitement and weirdness that its cover art promises.  Sheba belongs to Mr. Grunchgirdle of Grunchgirdle's Curiousities at the end of a pier in Little-Pilchton-on Sea, 1851.  She stays in a cage, available for display to any poor customer who can afford the few coins to see the curious Wolfgirl, with her claw-like hands, hairy body, and unknown to Grunchgirdle, incredible sense of smell.  So when she is sold to Mr. Plumpscuttle, to become a member of Plumpscuttle's Peculiars in London, she is not expecting life to improve much, though London certainly sounds more exciting than the wharf in Little Pilchton.

In London, Sheba joins Plumpscuttle's Peculiars, a dilapidated freak show consisting of Monkeyboy, whose name is sufficient for explanation, Sister Moon, a Japanese ninja girl with catlike qualities; Mama Rat, keeper of trained rats; and the big man, Gigantus. Mr. Plumpscuttle is little, if any, better than Mr. Grunchgirdle, however, as long as the Peculiars draw a paying crowd each night, they are granted more freedom than Sheba had at Gruchgirdle's.

When poor young mudlarks (children who earn a living picking scrap from the muddy tidal shores of the Thames) begin disappearing - snatched, the locals say, by a giant metal crab, no one cares.  The fate of mudlarks does not concern the average citizen of Victorian-era London, but it does concern the Peculiars; and together, they use their peculiar talents to uncover the mystery of the giant mechanized crab, becoming a peculiar "family" in the process.

I think we'll be seeing more of this trio of fun, freaky, steampunk, crime fighters.

UK cover for Freaks.  

Read the first chapter of Freaks here.

An Author's Note on Mid-Nineteenth Century London, and a Gallery of Freaks, the author's character sketches including Flossy, the two-headed lamb are included as back matter and add historical perspective and a some light-heartedness to Freaks.

* steampunk. Unabridged. Random House, Inc. (accessed: March 26, 2013).

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