Thursday, October 18, 2012

Book Review: "Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms", by Lissa Evans

Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms by Lissa Evans caught my eye in a bookstore as I passed the shelf on which it sat. There were no bright colors to attract me, only a cover of black and white with a small boy standing upon a stage, cogs and wheels spinning above his head. “Magic, Mystery & A Very Strange Adventure” read the cover. I smiled and jotted the title and author down on a piece of scrap paper. I found the children’s novel sometime later at my local library and brought it home to read.

Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms is probably intended for those around the ages of ten-to-twelve, but I found this fact to be of little consequence as I devoured the rollicking little adventure. It is what I like to call a ‘quiet’ adventure and, while reading too many of these can create a sense of boredom, the occasional romp upon such pages sets the mind at ease while winding up a tale of mystery and riddle.

When Stuart Horten leaves his comfortable home and big yard and many friends for the English town of Beeton, he is decidedly unhappy with the conditions. It’s summer, so there’s nothing for him to do, and no one with which to play—except for a bothersome set of triplets one house over. So when a game of riddles and a handful of threepence from his great-uncle appear with the promise of a shop full of magical wonder, Stuart eagerly accepts the challenge.

It’s a race against time for Stuart and his new friends as they discover why Great-Uncle Tony and his fiance Lily vanished years ago, and what an old collection of Horten-made machinery has to do with anything. In the end it will take all of Stuart’s courage, all of his friends, and a good deal of obstinate detective work to answer the questions.

Ms. Evans is a talented children’s author with that well-loved knack for dropping a hundred obscure pieces to the puzzle and somehow manage to them snugly together when all is said and done. From Stuart’s quirky, crossword-creating father, to a blind woman who knew Tony Horten personally, to a magic-trick manufacturer and her green-suited student; the cast of characters is a lively bunch manufacturing a little bit of magic on their own.

I read this little novel in a few hours and took pleasure in every page. Recently it has become a rare joy to find a children’s story so filled with innocence, focusing on friendship, with such clever humor and innumerable bike rides. Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms is clean and smart, without a trace of the usual crude humor. 

A comparison may be made between Evans’s work and that of Trenton Lee Stewart with his Mysterious Benedict Society books, but for younger readers and with a more open, clean-cut feel than the lyrically inclined Stewart. In any case, I’d recommend this book without hesitation.

Rating for this book:

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