One of the benefits of having an overwhelmingly huge and ever-growing book pile is that sometimes, when you get bored, you can just dig to the bottom to see what’s been hiding there, and sometimes, you find little treasures you’d completely forgotten about.
This is one of those.
I happened upon Dave Butler’s The Kidnap Plot (The Extraordinary Journeys of Clockwork Charlie #1) several years ago after a particularly memorable LibertyCon panel which was supposed to be about The Best New YA Books…but, given that none of us had actually read any new YA books that year, ended up being about awesome YA in general (and also ended up being one of the most fun panels at that convention). This has nothing to do with the book, except that fellow panelist Butler was giving out copies at the end, and like heck am I gonna turn down any free steampunk reading, especially when the cover is as adorable as this:
Plus, in the con-less semi-apocalyptic landscape that is 2020, it’s nice to reflect on con memories, and that panel was one of my favorites.
The London of The Kidnap Plot is one soaked in steam and coated in grease, where airships dominate the sky and beneath them live overlapping cultures of humans, pixies, trolls, kobolds, shape-changers…and Charlie Pondicherry and his Bap. Charlie’s father runs Pondicherry’s Clockwork Invention and Repair, and never allows Charlie to venture far from it. But when his Bap is kidnapped by the aptly-named Sinister Man and his cronies, Charlie will have to venture further than he’s ever gone to rescue him–and in doing so, uncovers a plot that threatens Queen Victoria herself.
If you’re in the mood for a charming middle grade steampunk adventure with a whimsical storybook quality, The Kidnap Plot is it. Though some elements toward the end might seem overly familiar to anyone who consumes lots of steampunk, the characters that surround those elements are fun enough that I didn’t care (and frankly made me want to re-read/watch the stories it reminded me of, so win-win).
It’s the unfamiliar parts that make the book shine, anyway. Charlie’s is a setting where educated trolls can be lawyers, pixie duchesses-to-be can be their assistants, and kobolds help out in inventing shops. The aforementioned Grim Grumblesson, Natalie De Minimis, and Henry Clockswain join the ambitious chimney sweeps/potential aeronauts Oliver Chattelsworthy and Heaven-Bound Bob to shape the eclectic party that helps Charlie recover his dad. (Special second mention for Heaven-Bound Bob because I think his name is extra-fun to say.) It’s a large cast for such a comparatively simplistic rescue story, but the characters play off each other’s strengths and weaknesses with panache in such a way that much of the fun of the novel is not in seeing the characters succeed, but wondering what clever, audacious things they’ll have to do to get out of their absurd situations, which often have no obvious solution.
More than once, I actually started thinking of these twists and turns in terms of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign, since so many of their challenges are complicated by the fact that one of them is super tiny, one is a big ol’ troll, and other such race-specific details. I doubt that was the author’s intent, but frankly now that I think of it, I’m totally down for a Clockwork Charlie RPG.
All in all, rip-roaring adventure and fun characters make The Kidnap Plot a delightful, exciting read. If you like whimsical steampunk stories, give it a try!
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