The short: 3/5 ✦. This steampunk novel has a lot of potential, but falls flat due to sketchy backstory and inconsistent characters.
As you know, I’m doing the 2015 Reading Challenge by POPSUGAR, and one of the challenges is to read a book based entirely on its cover.
I mentioned in a previous post that I totally do judge books by their cover, but I usually give one the benefit of doubt by at least reading the inside blurb – a last chance for it to win me over. But this challenge meant COVER ONLY (and title, obviously), and I couldn’t cheat and sneak at Goodreads for its rating, either.
So yeah, I had no idea what to expect from this book except that it was YA (being the section I picked it up in) and probably steampunk based on the cover. Now, I’m not a particular steampunk fan, though I like the idea of it; I enjoyed Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series and a scattered few others, but it’s not a genre I specifically seek out. I just like all kinds of fantasy and sci-fi, and steampunk in particular, though very interesting, has a niche fandom, I suppose you could say, that is rather intimidating. I also think it’s better suited for a more visual medium like film. In any case, as I began reading, I was just relieved that I hadn’t made a TERRIBLE choice, after all.
The Inventor’s Secret takes place in an alternate reality (liking it so far) in which the Americans lost the Revolutionary War (nice), and have subsequently been ruled by the British empire (go Britannia!). The original rebels have persisted throughout the generations, with their descendants and other colonists being continuously punished through indentured servitude (okay . . .), which means slavery was abolished early and there are floating cities and robots and everyone worships Athene and Hephaestus along with the Christian God (what, wait?).
Andrea Cremer may be a history professor, but she seems to have gotten a little overenthusiastic when planning this world. I just don’t see how Greek gods could ever have gained a foothold in the strict religious society of Britain to the point of actual worship. A resurgence of interest, sure, that’s largely what happened during the European Renaissance, but there wouldn’t be temples or swear words revolving around Athene’s helmet or Hephaestus’s hammer. I may be nitpicking, but that was a little far-fetched, even accounting for the steampunk elements. I find those to be at least grounded in science (if fantastical). The other historical element that bothered me was the lack of slavery. Not that I’m complaining it wasn’t in there, but Cremer handwaved it off like something easily dismissed, as if it were something that didn’t have a couple hundred years of institutionalized racism and other factors that led to its permeated existence. No, it was all fine, the British didn’t want to deal with that sort of free labor, let’s take out on everyone else. Just . . . ehhh . . . Honestly, I’m not really qualified to discuss this issue, but it did seem offensive to me, especially considering that I didn’t really notice any characters of color (I did skim a little). If everyone is free and equal (so to speak), why are all the rich and powerful people white?
Speaking of the characters, the protagonist is Charlotte, the sassy YA heroine whom everyone should be familiar with by now. She wasn’t as annoying as some I’ve read, but her characterization flips between being the mature sixteen-year-old one would expect from growing up sans parental guidance during a war – and being a totally immature teenager who doesn’t know what she wants, but she knows she wants it now. Okay, that’s a bit harsh. Still, Charlotte nearly undresses in front of her crush to tease him, which might be fine if in an earlier scene she hadn’t been stomping around complaining about being treated like a child. Meg and Linnet are only slightly older than Charlotte and have entirely different personalities and interests, but both are far more mature.
Then there’s the love triangle (two of whom are fairly terrible people).
And that’s all I’m going to say about THAT.
The rest of the story and such was pretty good. I liked all the secondary characters, especially Grave, the mysterious boy mentioned in the blurb (that I’ve now read, of course) and who you think is going to be major player, but is delegated to sidekick at best, despite his overall importance to the plot. And to be honest, not that much happens, so this book feels more like a setup for the sequel(s). I do see the plot strings, I see where this might be going, but the rebellion is so little developed, and the world only half-built while still being overly complex, it’s mostly just frustrating. I didn’t hate it, though (heck, even if this wasn’t a blind pick, I still probably would’ve read it), and I’m intrigued enough to want to read the next book. Hopefully, there will be less lovey-dovey stuff and more action.
Header image: The Inventor’s Secret by Andrea Cremer, published April 22, 2014 by Philomel Books.