By Peter Bunzl
Published by Usborne
ISBN 978 1474915 007
A good Victorian-era novel hasn't landed on YA bookshelves for some time. Luckily, debut author Peter Bunzl remedies that with his outstanding first novel Cogheart, a breathtakingly inventive adventure story that will enthral readers young and old.
Confident and gripping storytelling from a new author doesn't come along very often, but word-of-mouth recommendations from the book's first readers could very well propel this steampunk saga into Potter territory. Cogheart, an extraordinary example of the power of storytelling, is an essential must-read and Bunzl is a talent to watch.
Mechanicals and mechanimals play an important role in Lily Hartman's world. Mrs Rush, the family cook, is a mechanical, a clockwork robot who, to all intents and purposes, looks and acts like a human being. Lily's pet is a wily mechanical fox called Malkin. But neither will work if the humans forget to wind them each day.
Lily knows a lot about mechanicals; because her father John is an inventor who is rumoured to have invented a perpetual motion machine, one that would solve all the energy problems the world is facing. But he refuses to comment on these rumours. It would be dangerous if such a machine were actually to exist. But there is no smoke without fire ...
When John vanishes after a suspicious airship crash, Lily is determined to discover the truth behind his disappearance. Robert, the local clockmaker's son, is unwittingly pulled into Lily's search, and it isn't long before the two of them are caught up in a dastardly plot to unearth and steal the "cogheart", the inventor's small but powerful machine.
The world Bunzl creates is perfectly imagined, with airships soaring through the skies, and mechanicals interacting with humans. It's almost impossible not be swept away by what is going on.
The opening and closing chapters of this wonderful book are thrilling, and Bunzl doesn't cheat his readers by ending with a cliffhanger. Readers will want more, but Cogheart is a perfectly focused tale, with a satisfactory ending to the clever plot.
YA novels with equally strong male and female characters are thin on the ground, so Cogheart is especially welcome in that regard. Bunzl is an award-winning animator and filmmaker, and this shows in his highly visual writing style. We just have to hope that he comes out with something more soon, now that he's got us hooked.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com