cover image The Inventor’s Secret

The Inventor’s Secret

Andrea Cremer. Philomel, $18.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-399-15962-6

Setting her self-described steampunk novel in an alternate 1816 in which the American Revolution failed and an insurgent war against a brutal British regime persists, Cremer (the Nightshade series) subverts the genre’s typical Victorian conventions with varying degrees of success. Sixteen-year-old Charlotte lives with her brother and other exiled children of Resistance fighters in the Wildlands outside the Floating City of New York. The appearance of an amnesiac boy with apparent ties to the city provides a reason for Charlotte to join an expedition to the glittering metropolis, affording Cremer opportunities to dress her heroine in silken finery and nurture a love triangle. Though a few inventions (e.g. the Floating City’s Great Wheel) inspire wonder, much of the technology feels too advanced a mere 40 years post–Declaration of Independence, distracting from the more intriguing political ramifications and cultural developments of this divergent timeline. Cremer handles the fantastical elements far better, hinting at rather than telegraphing the “secret” of the title. In revealing it, she sets herself up for a sequel that could be more cohesive than the series opener. Ages 12–up. Agent: InkWell Management. (Apr.)