Friday, November 6, 2015

Fires of Invention by J. Scott Savage, 2015

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Trenton Colman is a creative thirteen-year-old boy with a knack for all things mechanical. But his talents are viewed with suspicion in Cove, a steam-powered city built inside a mountain. In Cove, creativity is a crime and “invention” is a curse word.
Kallista Babbage is a repair technician and daughter of the notorious Leo Babbage, whose father died in an explosion—an event the leaders of Cove point to as an example of the danger of creativity.
Working together, Trenton and Kallista learn that Leo Babbage was developing a secret project before he perished. Following clues he left behind, they begin to assemble a strange machine that is unlike anything they’ve ever seen before. They soon discover that what they are building may threaten every truth their city is founded on—and quite possibly their very lives.

(370 pages)

Oh my goodness, this book reminded me so much of the City of Ember books! But it's like an even more dystopian, futuristic sort of City of Ember, with all sorts of crazy restrictions added on to the already bleak top-down governmental control system. I think it's a pretty cool, out-of-the-blue version of the

The first time I saw the cover, I thought Fires of Invention looked like one of those little-kid books my brother used to read (I think the series was called Beast Quest?), you know the type - there are about a million of them, about two-hundred pages long, with just about the same recycled plot in every single installment. This is why I initially wasn't too eager to pick up Fires of Invention. But then I read a review that praised it highly and compared it to the City of Ember books, and I knew it wasn't anything like I'd originally thought it was. I put in a request for it at the library, and read it over the course of a few days during my break time.

I can't say I was incredibly wowed by the story (I actually didn't like the twist it took at the end - I'd have preferred something a little more realistic), but it was definitely much better than I'd first thought it would be. I think I'll stick with my beloved The City of Ember, but I can definitely see a lot of kids getting really into this more steampunk version of the scenario. The books of Ember revolve more around the remains of a battered humanity, struggling to thrive and learning important lessons about human nature along the way. The Mysteries of the Cove books take a completely different angle, focusing on the suppression of creativity (conformity is "safe") and the crucial role invention must have in order for humanity to thrive. For us to get better, the book argues, we must adapt. And to adapt, we must invent. I wholeheartedly agree with this (though maybe not so much with the need for lots of big, gas-guzzling machines to run everything), and I think the message was relatively well-buried. It could have been a little less obvious, but then I suppose this isn't the sort of book that needs to be that subtle.

I'll definitely be recommending this to kids I think might like it - starting with my own middle-school-aged brother, who will probably agree to reading it based on the cover alone. I'm not absolutely in love with it (I was . . . less than excited by the turn things took in the end), but I still really like the premise of the city of Cove, with its crazy restrictions and distorted heritage, and I hope the series fleshes out more of the themes it began in Fires of Invention. If it takes the turn I'm thinking it will, though, then I don't know if I'll continue it - there are so many series about AAA* that I can read.

*And by AAA, I mean something that I can't tell you because it's a spoiler. If you've read the book, I'm sure you know what I'm talking about.

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