Review: The Inventor's Secret by Andrea Cremer
The Inventor's Secret by Andrea Cremer.
The Inventor's Secret #1.
Published: April 22, 2014.
Published by: Philomel.
Source: Requested an ARC from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. Thank you, Penguin Canada!
Sixteen-year-old Charlotte and her fellow refugees have scraped out an existence on the edge of Britain’s industrial empire. Though they live by the skin of their teeth they have their health (at least when they can find enough food and avoid the Imperial Labor Gatherers) and each other. When a new exile with no memory of his escape from the coastal cities or even his own name seeks shelter in their camp he brings new dangers with him and secrets about the terrible future that awaits all those who have struggled has to live free of the bonds of the empire’s Machineworks.
The Inventor’s Secret is the first book of a YA steampunk series set in an alternate nineteenth-century North America where the Revolutionary War never took place and the British Empire has expanded into a global juggernaut propelled by marvelous and horrible machinery.
The Inventor's Secret, while not a perfect book for me, is still very much a fun and imaginative romp through a steampunk world. It is one that I enjoyed but not one that I found to be without its faults.
Set in a reimagined 1800s North America where the USA failed at revolution and is thus still under British rule, this was a very interesting look at a potential alternate history. I absolutely loved the premise - alternate history steampunk about refugees living on the fringe of the now massive British empire? Very cool. And I'm happy to say that on this, The Inventor's Secret totally delivered. It has the alternate history aspect with a decent explanation laid out for how it got that way, it has the steampunk crazy creations and mad science/mechanics, and it has the refugee element, which I think was very well done.
The novel begins with Charlotte returning to her home in the catacombs, where everyone living there is under eighteen. They are primarily the children of the resistance (adults fighting covertly against the empire), plus various other children they've found with nowhere else to go. They remain there until they're eighteen, when they go to join their parents in the resistance. That part was a little foggy for me; it could have used a better explanation. But overall, the structure of the novel, especially at the beginning, was strong, and the potential was great. For the first novel in the series, it had a great handle on these aspects.
Charlotte's brother, Ash, -- who is nearing his eighteenth birthday -- and their friend Jack are tasked with attending a very important mission for the resistance and Charlotte, being the curious and headstrong girl that she is, manages to include herself in it and make her way out of the catacombs to the empire. This is where most of the story takes place and is really the most exciting and intriguing in terms of world building and plot. Not only does it give a glimpse at what the high class life in the empire is like (rather Capitol-esque, full of excesses), it also adds some more lively action, helps begin to solve the mystery of the amnesiac exile, and introduces some new likeable characters. However, it is also, unfortunately, where the romance aspect of the story lost me completely.
Charlotte's romance storyline left a little to be desired for me. I liked that there was back story with Jack and their banter was, for the most part, quite fun. The introduction to their potential as a couple was well set up and believable. However, there was a lot of secret-keeping going on, which I'm not a big fan of to being with. Then Jack starts acting more like a child than like a man you want to swoon over, and his whole refusal "because secrets; I'm not who you think I am" [obviously paraphrasing] arc felt kind of cliche and disappointing. I think this happened to set up romantic conflict with the introduction of a potential love triangle, but this is by no means a love triangle I am going to get behind. I flat out do not like these kinds of triangles and I don't think I'll be pleased if it continues on the way it's suggested to be heading. A strong start to Charlotte's romantic endeavours quickly took an unfortunate bad turn.
Early on I noticed that there seemed to be some minor inconsistencies that pulled me out of the story a bit. It's possible these will be caught and fixed in the finished copy (I hope so), but in the ARC they were a little distracting. Also, part of the world building included constant references to the Greek gods Hephaestus and Athena by the characters (used in a few different ways - for example, they use their names kind of as a reference to god or in place of swearing and the characters also visit a temple to "Athene") and while this is kind of explained later on in the novel, I spent too long confused by it. I simply could not see where the anicent Greek gods came in during a transition from 1700s Britain to the failed attempt at revolution in the US to alternate 1800s North America (still under Britain). I just don't see it at all; it made no sense to me that they would worship these two Greek gods. So, by the time the explanation did come, it was too late for me to really accept it and it also wasn't really strong enough, in my opinion.
There were definitely elements of this novel that I enjoyed. The steampunk elements were very interesting and it was a fun change in genre and style. The action and adventure aspect of the story was strong and entertaining, the world building was mostly impressive and I enjoyed the majority of the characters. However, with a romance that I had to stop rooting for and some major issues that just left me confused, this wasn't quite all it could have been. Thus, The Inventor's Secret is kind of in the middle for me.