Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Unnaturalists by Tiffany Trent -- Five Stars

 This young adult steampunk novel revolves around Vespa Nyx and the Museum of Unnatural History -- and the possibility that she might be the only witch left in this world of magic and technology.

The city, New London, is the fault of Saint Tesla, whose experiments tore loose whole sections of Victorian London, thrusting them into a magical land where an assortment of legendary creatures and the Tinkers live. The Tinkers are reduced to poverty by the time of the story. According to Trent, “…the Tinkers in this book are heavily based on my experiences living in the Sichuan highlands of China with the Baima people, an ethnic Tibetan tribe.” I actually thought that they were based on the Roma but later decided that they were of Asian heritage, so I was happy to read that I wasn’t too far off in my assessment.

The story moves along briskly, following Vespa through her trials with her father, work, aunt, New London society and a young Pedant, who might not be who he claims. While magic is illegal, children in the city are sometimes born with powers -- and abandoned or disowned by their families. The story is filled with mysterious events, magical creatures called Elementals, a dangerous and destructive Waste, plenty of intrigue and a romantic thread that doesn’t muck up the storyline at all. In fact, it’s essential to the story. The famous scientists of our world -- Tesla, Newton, Darwin -- are Saints in the city of New London, where magic is forbidden and the technology depends on a dust called myst.

The threads that tied the story together weren’t obvious and many were subtle hints and portents of things to come, unlike most YA literature. Even the story elements that seemed familiar often ended up in completely different places; the tale took unexpected directions. There were a few spots that I was able to predict what was coming next, but I’ve read hundreds of books; I wouldn’t expect a teen or YA reader to pick up on those nuances. In general, it was not predicable or heavy handed at all, including the ending.

The formatting of the story is interesting, with alternating chapters told in first person, present tense, by Vespa, and third person, past tense, by Syrus, a Tinker. It took me a minute to adjust to this style, but I think that it actually enhances the story line. You’re never trying to figure out which character’s point of view is being followed -- it’s obvious at a glance.

The weaving of fantasy and technology within a Victorian New London make this a unique addition to the world of steampunk. I stayed up until 2 am to finish this story and honestly, I’m looking forward to rereading the book to pick up details that I might’ve missed during the first reading.

No comments: