Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Brimstone Key

Tween Tuesday was started over at Green Bean Teen Queen as away to highlight awesome books for the 9-12 yr olds or Tweens. Any book highlighted on Tween Tuesday also counts for the In the Middle Reading Challenge! This week's book is:

Benz, Derek and J.S. Lewis. The Brimstone Key. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2010. Print. Grey Griffins: The Clockwork Chronicles 1.
[Book cover credit: librarything.com/work/9250799]

Booktalk (for folks new to the Grey Griffins):
Harley, tall and buff, is a whiz engineer, especially considering he's a sixth grader.
Natalia, whose signature long red braids are always trailing behind her, is kind of a whiz in general.
Ernie, or Agent Thunderbolt, is currently part faerie, and the more he uses the power that comes with that, the more faerie and less human he will become. But Ernie's an upbeat kid and has decided to use his powers for good, you know, like Superman.
Max, the leader of the group, is the youngest in a very rich, very powerful family. With that comes certain responsibilities. Luckily he has his friends to help him out.
Together they are the Grey Griffins, and they assist the Templar in their quest to protect the innocent from what is evil in this world.

Booktalk (for Grey Griffin fans):
Iron Bridge Academy is finally about to open, and the Grey Griffins will be attending school with Templar kids like themselves. Though they've never been around other Templar kids, except Brooke of course whose father will be headmaster, the Grey Griffins are excited. Ernie, especially, is looking forward to recruiting more changelings to his super hero team. Before they can all be whisked off to school, they're visited by a clockwork bug that leads them to an underground vault. When they find an old set of Round Table cards (and almost die, of course), things start to get weird, even by the Grey Griffins rather warped standards. One of the characters on the card, The Clockwork King, just walks away.

The Brimstone Key is a great start to what looks like it will be a promising new direction in the Grey Griffins stories. As someone who has never picked up a Grey Griffins book before, I found this story easy to understand and catch up with. I may go back and read other Grey Griffins books now, while I wait for the next book, but I won't be going back to read them because I felt I was missing something here. That said, I probably did miss some things that devoted Grey Griffin fans will squee about. There were a few characters that were clearly making cameo appearances in this book, I assume from the previous Grey Griffin escapades, but they weren't so central to this story that I minded not really knowing who they were. Of course, there also might be a bit too much information and back story in the beginning of this book for someone who has just devoured the previous Grey Griffins series. Just because I appreciated all of the explanation and introduction of characters doesn't mean that everyone else will. BUT if you are a Grey Griffins fan, or are providing readers' advisory for one, rest assured that there is a lot after those first few chapters that Max, Natalia, Ernie and Harley were surprised about, so I'm sure you (or your reader) will be too.

This book was pitched to me as a steampunk novel for middle grade readers, and I wondered just how the writers were going to pull that off with established characters from a series set in current times. They did it wonderfully and pretty realistically. Well, maybe realistically isn't the best word given that this is a fantasy novel, but the writers did not require any ridiculous suspensions of disbelief of me in order to fit the steampunk elements into the story. The Grey Griffins nemesis is a man who has spent the last century trapped in a Round Table card. When he somehow escapes, he restarts the experiments and projects that got him imprisoned in the first place. And voila! We have clockwork machines running amuck in the modern day (Templar cloaked) world. Fashions at Iron Bridge Academy also run on the steampunk-y style. At first, this was weird to me, but parts of it get explained away pretty understandably:
  • The Academy is not actually in Avalon, but in Iron Bridge, a Templar community outside of the "regular" world that has maintained Victorian sensibilities.
  • All the kids wear goggles because they can act out their Round Table tournaments with them.
  • A lot of the changelings are depressed about their lot in life, and so bring in the sort-of goth element.
  • All the grown-ups have weird weapons strapped all over them, especially when things start to get dangerous.
Put all of that together with a bunch of evil clockwork machines and a "subway" restored to its turn of the century glory and you have a good old steampunk costume party at school every day, and because the Grey Griffins are woefully dorky, fashion-wise, all of this gets explained in great detail. And while I'm a fan of the steampunk elements throughout (clearly), I don't think they are overwhelming to the story. Readers who are just looking for a fantasy or just looking for another Grey Griffins book shouldn't be put off by them.

I really enjoyed getting to know all of the Grey Griffins (and a few yet to be named sidekicks, to avoid being spoiler-y). I'm sure that fans of the previous series will enjoy heading off to school with Grey Griffins here, and new readers are sure to be sucked in as well. There is definitely a Harry Potter vibe going on with the addition of Iron Bridge Academy to these kids lives that will appeal to a lot of readers.

The Brimstone Key came out yesterday and is available for purchase!

Book source: Review copy from publisher via the yalsa-bk listserv.


GreenBeanTeenQueen said...

Wow-this one sounds cool-I haven't heard of it before! I'll have to check it out! Thanks for posting a Tween Tuesday post!:)

Charlotte said...

I'll check it out too!

Lawral the Librarian said...

I'd love to hear what you both think about it, if you manage to get your hands on it!

GreenBean - Thanks for hosting! Tween Tuesdays have really helped me to make the middle grade books in my TBR pile a priority!

Doret said...

Thanks for this review. Now when customers ask about this book, I'll have something to tell them.

I love the idea of evil clockwork machines.