Friday, November 18, 2011

Bloomswell Diaries by Louis Buitendag

Ben is a little worried about going to America to stay with his mysterious uncle, but it's more exciting than getting left behind by his parents yet again. But when Ben arrives something mysterious is happening and he makes a horrible discovery; his parents are missing, presumed dead.

Or are they? The newspaper accounts can't be right; they were alive and with him on the date they went missing. Then his uncle mysterious disappears and terrifying men take him prisoner, men who include one of the strange and frightening tinmen. Ben finds himself locked up in a Dickensian orphanage/school with cruel boys and a possibly insane headmaster.

Desperate to find out the truth about his parents and uncle, and even more worried about his sister, at a boarding school in Switzerland, Ben manages to escape with the help of another imprisoned boy named Mackenzie.

Will Ben make it to Switzerland before the mysterious criminals capture his sister? Where is the rest of his family? And who is the sinister figure following Ben everywhere he goes?

This is a fast-paced adventure story with a flavor of steampunk and a definite Dickensian touch a la Joan Aiken. I read it quite breathlessly, eager to find out what happened at the end - and was sadly disappointed that it is, of course, a series. However, when I thought about it some more afterwards, I wasn't quite as happy with the story. It's strung out unnecessarily in my opinion. I would have skipped the entire school sequence and a large number of the mysterious hints and packed the whole story into one volume instead of dragging it out into sequel(s). This is a first novel, so hopefully the author will tighten his plots a little more in future writings. Although the plot could have been refined and some of the plot points tightened, and a little less of the constant shifts in friends/enemies cleared up, this was overall a fun adventure story with exciting pace and interesting characters.

Verdict: An additional purchase if you have kids who are fans of Lemony Snicket and are willing to read more stories with the Dickensian flavor. Sadly, I haven't met any middle grade  fans of Joan Aiken or steampunk, but if you have them you'll want this fun adventure.

ISBN: 9781935279822; Published March 2011 by Kane Miller; Review copy provided by the publisher

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