Kate Milford's debut YA novel The Boneshaker
(not to be confused with Cherie Priest's excellent, award-nominated novel of the same name
) is a fine, darkly magical story set in turn-of-the-20th-century Missouri, in a small and haunted town called Arcane. It's the story of thirteen year old Natalie Minks, the daughter of a gifted mechanic, and what happens when a mysterious carnival comes to town. Doctor Jake Limberleg's Nostrum Fair and Technological Magic Show isn't right. There's something spooky about how the snake-oil peddlar can make the automata in Natalie's Pa's shop work, and the pitchmen who perform phrenology and amber therapy are sinister in the extreme (and then there's the acrobatic jester in motley who scampers over the carny on the guy-wires, wearing a darkly hilarious clay mask from which malevolent eyes peer).
Boneshaker is filled the the rich Bradbury stuff, that haunting and deliciously spooky stuff that lives in the shadows and ride through the land on creaking wagons with dusty brocade curtains. The mystery of the carny quickly turns grim and urgent, as Natalie realizes that the whole town is in danger, including her ailing mother, and discovers that only she can save the town. But first, she has to solve the riddle of the carny, of the abandoned nearby ghost-town at the crossroads, of the ancient Civil War vet who beat the devil with his guitar there before she was born, of the mysterious town benefactor who seems to know everything but only talks in circles.
Oh, and she has to learn to ride the bizarre boneshaker bike she talked her father into rescuing off a scrapheap and rebuilding with her.
Filled with heart-racing suspense and delicious mystery, Boneshaker is a book a kid (or a grownup) could fall in love with, the kind of thing that might fill a summer's worth of bedtime stories, or a stolen afternoon reading in the park.
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