The Lost Property Office. Section 13 Book 1 by James R. Hannibal. Simon and Schuster, 2017.
Jack Buckles and his mother and little sister Sadie have flown from America to London to search for his missing father. When impulsive Sadie thinks she sees him, Jack chases her, and is led to the Lost Property Office, a steampunky magical-technical place that searches for all sorts of missing things, including both property and people. A young trainee clerk, Gwen, tells Jack that he is in fact the 13th of that name, and descended from a long line of Finders. Goaded by a nefarious villain, the French Clockmaker Jack and Gwen set out to search for both Jack’s father and the Ember that started the Great Fire of London. Clockmakers have been the enemies of Finders since that long-ago time, and the Clockmaker stays on their tails with quantities of clockwork beetles.
There are lots of stories of kids who think they’re ordinary finding out that they have inherited some spectacular ability from their family. This one is good especially for those interested in the history of disasters and who like their magic mechanical with a side of steam/gear punk. What especially stood out for me is that Jack has sensory issues that make being in crowds or loud places overwhelming. All of his life, this has been a liability for him. Now, as Gwen teaches him to “spark” to feel the history of objects, and to focus his Finder abilities, his disability turns into his greatest strength. I know more than one kid who has sensory issues like this, and I’ve never before seen it used as a superpower. On the minus side, though, this is yet another modern-day multi-character fantasy where all the major characters are white. I’ll admit that my experience of modern Britain is pretty much limited to the Great British Baking Show, but that is a whole lot more diverse than this book. Still, unfortunately, children’s fantasy defaults to all-white. This is a solid choice for kids looking for a fantasy adventure, with a similar to feel to Ted Sander’s The Box and the Dragonfly.
This book has been nominated for the Cybils award. This review reflects my opinion, not that of the Cybils committee.