Book Review by Debbie Winkler
Author: Matthew Skelton
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (February 2010)
ISBN: 038573381X, EAN: 9780385733816
Page Count: 304 pages
Target Age Group: children ages 9 -12
My Rating: 3/5 stars
* provided for free for review purposes
Cirrus Flux is one of the orphans being raised in the Foundling Hospital on the outskirts of London. He is one of the oldest boys left there as all of his other friends are slowly apprenticed to wigmakers, printers, and scientists, but Cirrus remains at the orphanage. Cirrus doesn’t mind until his best friend, Bottle Cap, is apprenticed and Cirrus is left alone with the younger boys. Pandora, another orphan, spends her days in a monotonous round of dusting, scrubbing floors and doing laundry until she is caught eavesdropping in the Governor’s office. Then she finds herself apprenticed to Madame Orrery, a cold, distant woman with a touch of evil about her. The longer Pandora remains in Madame’s employ, the more she comes to realize that there is something especially important about Cirrus – and the token left behind by his father. As she boldly steps forward to help a stranger, she and Cirrus will both find themselves swept up into a miraculous adventure involving hot-air balloons powered by fiery birds, magic shows where lightning flows through boys’ bodies, a museum full of strange enchantments, a mysterious tattooed man who is following Cirrus, and the creepy members of the Guild who will do anything to get their hands on the sphere that Cirrus possesses.
I had pretty high expectations for this book as the description made it sound really good, but it just didn’t quite capture my attention. It is set in an alternative 18th century London where magic and scientific experimentation dwell side to side. This historical era is a time of expansion, of discovery in science and yet still believing in the mystical and magical. The setting was very interesting and seamlessly done and I would love to see more stories set in this world as I feel like this book barely started to introduce the interesting and unique features that this London possesses. Interestingly enough, this book felt like a first book in a series as there was a lot of time spent setting up the story and then a wild ride to the finish. I believe this is a stand-alone book, however, and this is a bit disappointing as the author spent over half of the book laying the groundwork of the story before anything actually happened! The book was a touch boring at the beginning and I didn’t really get into it until about halfway through when the action started to happen.
One of the main things that slowed the book down was jumping between Pandora’s and Cirrus’s first person narratives. As if two narrative voices were not enough, the author also chose to jump back to random moments in Cirrus’s past from his father, James’s, perspective. There are also a couple of chapters from other secondary characters’ perspectives to further complicate matters. I felt that these historical flashbacks were unnecessary and could have been woven into the story as memories from existing characters or a letter written to the appropriate parties or something. These “27 years previously” and “12 years later” and stuff like that kept jolting me out of the story and putting up stumbling blocks to the plot in my opinion. Also, because there were so many characters telling the story, we didn’t get to learn as much about any individual as I would have liked.
Still, this book is an enjoyable fantasy adventure. There is a strong female protagonist and a rather timid male protagonist. I was surprised to see that the author spent more time with Pandora and feel that she got to do cooler things and carried the storyline further than the “main character” Cirrus Flux. If you think this book is mainly geared towards boys, you are in for a surprise! With a lovely, large font for easy reading and quick page progression on that nice, thick paper, this book has a lot to recommend to young fantasy readers, but had so much more potential in it that I ultimately felt let down.
This book contains a few thrilling scenes of mild peril, but nothing too serious. A few peripheral characters die during the story line, but there are no gruesome details. This book has a few scary moments and some of the adults are pretty creepy, but nothing that will keep children from reading and enjoying this book. Recommended for ages 8 and up.