A sixteen-year-old governess becomes a spy in this alternative U.S. history where the British control with magic and the colonists rebel by inventing.
It’s 1888, and sixteen-year-old Verity Newton lands a job in New York as a governess to a wealthy leading family—but she quickly learns that the family has big secrets. Magisters have always ruled the colonies, but now an underground society of mechanics and engineers are developing non-magical sources of power via steam engines that they hope will help them gain freedom from British rule. The family Verity works for is magister—but it seems like the children's young guardian uncle is sympathetic to the rebel cause. As Verity falls for a charming rebel inventor and agrees to become a spy, she also becomes more and more enmeshed in the magister family’s life. She soon realizes she’s uniquely positioned to advance the cause—but to do so, she’ll have to reveal her own dangerous secret.
I was thrilled when I found out I won this book in a giveaway by Nori of the blog ReadWriteLove24. There have been many books in the past few years dealing with an alternate reality in which the existence of magic changes everything. Most of these books are based in England (A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess, and the upcoming Blood Rose Rebellion by Rosalyn Eves are two that come to mind). Rebel Mechanics, by Shanna Swendson, is set in an America that is still a colony of England. The British are in control, mainly due to the fact that technology has not been allowed to develop. Instead, colonists rely on magic that is controlled by the ruling class of British nobility.
What I Liked:
Verity is the main character. She comes to New York in order to support herself as a governess. I liked how determined she was to be self-reliant. She makes the acquaintance of the rebel mechanics, seemingly by accident. But was it happenstance, or something more calculated? She does seem very trusting of all the new people in her life. But I think this was completely in line with the fact that Verity has led a sheltered life. As the novel progresses, Verity comes to see there are good people in both the nobility and the rebel cause.
Lord Henry Lyndon:
Henry is the young lord who is the guardian of the three children Verity is caring for. At first, he seems like a bumbling bookworm, but there is much more to Henry. Could he be one of the masked bandits who robbed Verity's train? I see Matt Smith (Doctor Who #11), as this character.
While Henry is somewhat idealized as the member of nobility who wants a revolution, he is also still out of touch with the harsh realities of the working class in New York. I thought he seemed like he wanted a democracy, but also didn't trust the masses to rule themselves.
I loved the descriptions of New York. The scenes of poverty felt like a Charles Dickens novel. There were also great moments where old New York stands out, before some of the most famous landmarks were created.
The idea that the industrial revolution would have been suppressed due to magic was a captivating one. The year was supposed to be 1888, yet, steam engines and other inventions weren't part of the landscape. I liked how everything was impacted from this lack of innovation.
What I Didn't Like:Characters:
Rollo (Roland), Olive and Flora were the siblings that Verity is in charge of. I didn't feel they were as well-developed as the other characters. I was hoping the oldest girl, Flora, would have some secrets going on, and perhaps there are in coming books. But in Rebel Mechanics, Flora is mostly a vapid teen. The only interesting aspect of Flora is her awareness (and hostility) that there may be an attraction between Verity and Henry. I hope these characters are brought to life more in the upcoming books.
Lack Of Tension:
While there is urgency in the book, I didn't feel enough was on the line for the main plot problem to be solved. Yes, some people were in danger, but everything was solved too easily. There was little sacrificed to achieve those goals.
I was also disappointed that there was no acknowledgement of any tension or jealousy when Henry and Alec finally meet.
Overall, this was a fun book. I hope the next books in the series will further explore the younger characters, and the impact of Verity's secret on her relationships with both Henry and the rebel Alec.
Release Date: July 14th, 2015
Genre: YA Fantasy (steampunk)
Source: Won from ReadWriteLove24 (Thank you!)
Recommendation: A promising start to this series. Filled with an intriguing look at what America would be like without the Revolution or the Industrial Revolution.