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A fabulous introduction to Steam Punk
on 25 April 2013
The Jupiter Chronicles: The Secret of the Great Red Spot
The first book in the Jupiter Chronicles introduces the reader to the Callisto children: Callie 9, and Ian 12. They live in the late nineteenth century, and have had to suffer the mysterious loss of their father Peter. This has left the children fatherless and impoverished. While their mother struggles to provide for them, the children must face up to being the only children in school without a father. One night Callie, the curious one, accidentally triggers a secret device in the telescope that Peter gave to his son just before disappearing. The telescope is suddenly transformed into a steam-powered space-ship and whisks them away from their home and off across space to the planet Jupiter. The children find themselves in the beautiful steam punk Jovian Empire, they meet the sinister hissing Emperor Phobos and with the help of Stinky Frank, a robot, set out on a series of adventures to find their father who they discover is the First Petros of Jovian; their adventures herald the beginning of the Steam punk age.
I have to admit to being incredibly biased in this review - I LOVE steam punk and am not averse to occasionally dressing up a bit steam-punky and, of course, I do possess a very fine pair of steam punk goggles! For anyone not familiar with Steam punk, it is basically a branch of science fiction: alternative history/speculative fiction often with a Victorian/Edwardian aesthetic. Basically think Victorian Style with modern technology - brass computers powered by steam - that kind of thing. I LOVE IT. And the idea that someone had written with the intention of introducing the Steam punk aesthetic to children seemed like a fantastic idea!
This book is clearly aimed at the younger pre-teen, not being an expert on children, I would say 7-10 year olds would love this book. It is written in a clear style that children would easily understand, yet also presents them with some challenges. The characters of Callie and Ian are well drawn and their sibling banter is very authentic and very funny - I particularly loved Callie's pithy entries into her journal. Emperor Phobos was wonderfully sinister with his reptilian hisssssing speech.
There are hints of a more deadly version of Quidditch in the Drifterdash games and perhaps a nod to John Carter of Mars; the steam punk elements were all there, and beautifully described - especially the city of Jovian. I loved the emphasis on learning which was present throughout the book and I particularly loved the way that the novel was peppered through with facts and questions - to pique the interest and feed the imagination. The book also deals with more serious issues faced by children as it tackles the issue of growing up as a single-parent family, and coping with the loss of a parent.
All in all, this is a great book to introduce Steam punk to children, I think both girls and boys would enjoy it. Although it is an adventure story, it is also very educational as it encourages a sense of enquiry both into history and science, whilst also appealing to the imagination and creative side of children.