Sunday, November 25, 2012

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥: The Night Watchman Express by Alison DeLuca

Brought to you by First Rule Publicity...

The Night Watchman Express (The Crown Phoenix #1)
Alison DeLuca

Page Count: 291
Release Date: 3 October 2012
Publisher: Myrddin Publishing Group
Source: Complimentary copy provided by author in exchange for an honest and unbiased review as part of the The Crown Phoenix Virtual Book Tour

An underground factory, a terrifying laboratory, and the eerie whistle of the Night Watchman Express...

Miriam has only her guardians' son for company, and she and Simon dislike each other from the start. But they must find a way to trust each other, or they will end up on the sinister Night Watchman Express.

Full of danger, suspense, betrayal, and a hint of romance, this steampunk adventure is for readers of all ages.

Review


This is the first steampunk novel I've tried that's targeted for younger readers, and after reading, I can confidently say I love the flourishing, industrializing backdrop set to Edwardian England in The Night Watchman Express; there's something just so exciting about new inventions and innovative ideas when it comes to children's stories. With a fresh concept, eerie undertone, and unending action throughout, this first installment in The Crown Phoenix series is sure to be a hit among middle grade readers.

The mysticism and mystery shrouding the phantom-like train Miriam hears every night is a creative, avant-garde approach to hidden universes, as well as to imagination, which is why I find the plot quite memorable. While in context, there is nothing magical about the strange, seemingly connected occurrences following the takeover of her father's company, Pearson's, from the perspective of children, they won't pass over without being thoughtfully contemplated upon. The characters and events were entertaining enough to keep me reading and just odd enough to stay in the back of my mind. There's plenty of speculative action as well, meaning, little hand-to-hand combat, but many jarring discoveries, many uncovered secrets, and many plot twists.

The danger is less physical and more psychological, involving hidden schemes and betrayal—it's more of a "danger of the unknown" kind of thing, which I found rather thrilling. That's not to say there's a lack of physical action, however; eager protagonists and fateful journeys make for lots of exploration and many discoveries as well.

The broad scattering of characters is a highlight of the novel. Each of them are distinct and well-depicted; it was very easy to like the heros and very easy to despise the villains. However, a balance of good and bad traits is portrayed in all of them, demonstrating that no matter how great or how evil people are, in the end, they are all human. I would have liked to see a little more dimension in terms of characterization, however. There's nothing personal about any of the characters, nothing exposed and nothing learned; I couldn't really connect with any of them individually, and I think this was mostly an issue regarding DeLuca's style:

Lots of telling going on, hardly any showing, which makes for rather bland prose. The writing isn't bad, certainly not, but there's nothing terribly exciting about it. Had it been better in conveying emotions, implementing suspense, and maintaining the reader's interest, I would have enjoyed reading this book a lot more. 

I appreciated how the characters evolve under the tests of the book's prevalent themes such as manipulation, true friendship, and trust, and found it interesting how Simon, Miriam, and Neil, who are all merely grade school-age, responded to unfamiliar stimuli. Overall, the setting is charming, the action lively, and the conclusion satisfying, but because it wasn't one of those keep-me-on-the-edge-of-my-seat reads, it's not something I would read again.

Pros


Dark concept, intriguing setting, lots of twists and turns, rich and diverse cast, open-ended so that it makes you want to try the next book, appropriate for all readers (rated PG).

Cons


Rather plain in diction, too tame!, lame clean-cut ending, stale characters (although they're never boring, which is a plus), drags on a bit, may not be successful in capturing attention due to lack of "fun" style.

Love

'Old Walking Stick,' George repeated ... 'So-called because he looks like he swallowed a walking stick and it be coming out the other end.'

Verdict


Recommended for more mature children (ages 9 to 12) for its dark humor, historical intrigue, and memorable plot, but not an urgent must-read. Not something you should stand in line to buy, but should try if you've already got a copy.

7 hearts - Not without flaws, but overall enjoyable. ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥