I’d been meaning to read Kate Milford for a while, but having a big package of her books show up from the Book Smugglers was a big incentive to actually do so!
Boneshaker by Kate Milford. Clarion Books, 2010.
It’s 1913 in Arcane, Missouri. Thirteen-year-old Natalie is dealing with a few challenges in her life already: the beautiful old-fashioned bicycle that she and her father refurbished and which she can’t actually ride due to the large hinge in the middle of the frame, and her mother’s mysteriously dwindling energy. Then Jake Limberleg comes to town with his traveling medicine show, complete with automata that Natalie can tell don’t have any power supply and thus shouldn’t work. She realizes, too, that the stories her mother has been telling her all her life are true, and that old Tom Guyot who hangs around downtown is still playing the beat-up guitar he defeated the devil with years ago.
This is a fascinating layered story built around old legends of the devil (I remember reading a whole book of such stories from the library as a child) and the power of the crossroads, with lots about the power of stories and the magic of science. Natalie is a compelling and likeable heroine. This is a story that edges towards the darker side of fantasy, while still including plenty of humor and staying appropriate for middle grade children – at least those up for something scary.
The Kairos Mechanism by Kate Milford. The Clockwork Foundry, 2012.
This is a self-published novella companion to Boneshaker. Natalie’s still adjusting to life after the events of that book, as well as dealing with boys who had been her friends suddenly treating her differently. One day, two teen boys in Civil War uniforms walk out of the corn field with the fresh corpse of a man who had been killed in that war. Natalie develops a friendship with the younger of the two boys, fourteen-year-old Ben. He tells her some of the secrets of how they got there and their uncomfortable mission. This is of course a chance for Natalie to get herself into more awkward situations! I very much enjoyed this story, and I’d really love to see the special reader-illustrated edition!
The Broken Lands by Kate Milford. Clarion Books, 2012.
Now, a prequel to the two previous books. It’s Coney Island in 1877, during the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. Teen-aged Sam Noctiluna is a professional card sharp, earning his living on the boardwalks of Coney Island with his card-playing skills. And then one day, an older man is sitting in his spot. Sam challenges him to regain it – and loses. But his lost spot pales in comparison to some of the other changes that are coming. He meets the most beautiful girl he’s ever seen, a girl in trousers with a long black braid, throwing blue fireworks out of her hands. Jin works for the Fata Morgana fireworks company, about to do a display at the swanky Broken Lands Hotel at the same time it’s hosting a reunion for veterans of the War Between the States, including Tom Guyot. Jin and Sam are drawn together as they run into two very unsavory creatures, Walker and Bones, who are trying to claim the city for Jack Hellcoal.
Once again, Milford gives us a multi-stranded plot that weaves all the pieces together into a harmonious and pleasing whole instead of a confusing jumble. At the same time as she’s telling an exciting fantasy story, we see the historical truth behind many of the events: the hope and danger that went into building the Brooklyn Bridge; the struggles of immigrants and minorities to be accepted in society. Jin and Sam are a little older than Natalie, and there are a couple of fairly gruesome murders, so this feels more solidly a teen book than the first two. I loved The Broken Lands, passed it and both of the other ones on to my mother, and put my name on the waitlist for Milford’s latest book, Greenglass House.