Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews



Lisa Mantchev
For ages 13 and up
Skyscape, 2014   ISBN: 978-1477825297

The girls born into the Farthing family all have weak hearts. Little Cygna died after only one day, and a year ago Penny’s beloved sister, Dimitria, suddenly and without any warning, died on her eighteenth birthday. Everyone was shocked because no one knew that her heart was unhealthy. Penny’s heart has always been weak and it has always been a cause for concern.

   Not long after Dimitria’s death, Penny’s heart failed. In desperation, her family doctor, Doctor Calvin Warwick, who had been working on building a clockwork heart, put his far-from-perfect prototype in her chest to keep her alive. Though Penny’s “Ticker” skips beats and is clearly not going to last forever, it has bought her some time. Warwick immediately set about working on building a better model, one that would be more stable and that would last many years.    

   Everything seemed to be going well until word got out that the doctor had been taking people off the streets and using them as his guinea pigs. Not long ago he was taken into custody and put on trial for murder.

   In just a short while, the verdict will be given and Penny wants to be at the courthouse when it does. Penny races through the streets on her Vitesse - a motorized cycle that she loves - to meet her twin brother Nic at the family factory. Soon after she arrives there is an explosion at the factory, but thankfully Nic is not too seriously injured. The twins head for home and when they get there they discover that their house has been ransacked and their parents are missing.   

   Everyone assumes that the Edocean Movement, a group of people who are opposed to Augmentation (like Penny’s heart), are responsible for the kidnapping. Since Warwick’s arrest, the movement has gained a lot of momentum and its members are becoming a serious problem in the city.

   Soon after they discover the situation at home, the twins are joined by their friends Violet and Sebastian. Then Marcus Kingsley, the head of the nation’s biggest private military organization, turns up, seemingly in response to the home invasion. Penny thinks that his arrival is rather odd, considering that there are anti-Augmentation riots breaking out all over the city. Surely Kingsley has other things he should be doing. Just when things get interesting, Nic and Penny get an anonymous message, which they believe to be from the Edocean Movement. The message tells them that their parents will be freed when Jenny and Nic hand over all the notes that their parents have “pertaining to the more complicated Augmentation procedures.” The papers are not in the house, so the young people decide to go to the Bibliotheca where copies are in storage.

   When they arrive at the Bibliotheca they find that Marcus is there and that someone else has already taken some of the records they are looking for. Marcus claims that he needs to check the remaining records “against an inventory list” to find out what is missing. The reason he gives for being there does not satisfy Penny. Later on, after chasing the document thieves through catacombs, Penny takes a journey through the air in a SkyDart to the Flying Fortress, the headquarters of Marcus’ company. Soon after they arrive, Marcus explains that Penny’s mother was working with his company on a project, and he wants to make sure that her papers do not fall into the wrong hands. He refuses to tell her what the project is and she in turn refuses to tell him what she knows. Finally, Marcus enlists Penny into his company as a Tesseraria, “a keeper and protector of classified information.”

   Before they can exchange information, the verdict from the courthouse comes in and then soon after they get word that a bomb has gone off there. Warwick is missing, people are dead and wounded, and the whole city is in a state of uproar.

   In this fast-paced steampunk novel readers will meet colorful characters, they will encounter fascinating gadgets and machines, and they will come to appreciate that human beings sometimes cross a line when they try to help others. Their intentions are good but they go too far and disaster is the result. The actions of Doctor Warwick don’t just cause social instability. They also harm the people he is trying to help, and lives spin out of control. Touches of romance and Penny’s personal reflections serve as perfect counterpoints to the action that fills the narrative.