Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Inventor's Secret

The Inventor's Secret

Andrea Cremer
For ages 12 and up
Penguin, 2014   ISBN: 978-0399159626

Charlotte and the other children and teenagers who live in the Catacombs have to be very careful to make sure that the location of their home is never revealed to their enemies. When Charlotte finds a boy in the forest who is running away from an Imperial Labor Gatherer she cannot resist first helping him, and then bringing him back to the Catacombs. Charlotte knows full well that her brother Ashley, the leader of the catacombs community, is not going to be pleased that she brought a stranger in their home, and she is right. Ash is furious, and it does not help that the boy, whom they call Grave, is strange and has no idea who he is or where he is from. Charlotte hates it when Ash gives her a hard time, but she feels protective towards Grave, who seems so lost and alone.

   Years ago, the British quashed the American Revolution, punishing those who led the rebellion and those who supported it. Even today, the descendants of those Americans are forced into serving the British as indentured servants, though in reality they are more like slaves. Even though the British Empire is powerful and has deadly weapons and superior numbers, some Americans have chosen to fight back, forming a Resistance movement. The children of these fighters live together in the Catacombs, a hidden underground home where they can live in peace until they turn eighteen. At that time they leave the Catacombs and join the adults.

   Though Grave seems harmless enough, his strangeness is worrying Meg, one of the older members of the Catacomb community. She wants to take the boy to the Floating City so that someone can examine him and perhaps find out who, or what, he is. Meg is not the only one who wants to go to the city. Apparently Ash and Jack have been planning on visiting the place too.

   Some time ago Jack came to the Catacombs saying that he was from the Foundry, but Charlotte now knows that is not one of their own. He is the son of a high ranking British military man and he has joined the Resistance cause. He came to the Catacombs in a Dragonfly, a flying machine, and now he and Ash plan on returning to the Floating City to confer with other members of the Resistance movement and those who support the American cause.

   After Charlotte finds out about the Dragonfly, even though she was not supposed to, it is decided that she will join the group going to the city. In fact, Charlotte will provide them with a cover, posing as a debutant who is ready to experience her first season. Ash will pose has her bodyguard, Meg will be her maid, Grave will be a servant, and Jack will use his family connections to get her into society.

   Being able to join her brother on an important mission excites Charlotte at first. Finally he has to accept that she has something to offer, that she isn’t just his baby sister. However, when Charlotte finds out that she is going to have to wear fancy clothes and truly play the part of a debutant, she is less thrilled. When the group gets to the Floating City she learns that life is such a place is a lot more complicated than she ever imagined. It is full of danger and unknowns, and matters are made even more difficult because she is moving away from childhood and into the world of adults.

   In this perfectly paced and exciting steampunk novel, the author combines the story of a war, with the story of a mysterious boy, and the story of Charlotte. It is interesting to see how Charlotte, who is still childish in some ways at the beginning of the story, grows and changes as she faces new experiences. Not only does she have to do what she can for the Resistance cause and for Grave, but she also has to come to terms with the fact that she is rapidly becoming a woman, a woman who has feelings for a young man whom she really does not know very well at all.