Monday, October 25, 2010

The Brimstone Key, Book I of The Clockwork Chronicles by Derek Benz and J.S. Lewis

The Brimstone Key (Little, Brown, June 2010, $15.99 in Hardcover, 369 pages) is the first installment in a new trilogy featuring the Grey Griffins -- Max Sumner, Harley Eisenstein, Ernie Tweeny, and Natalia Romanov -- regular kids from Avalon, Minnesota who became monster hunters under the tutelage of the Knights Templar in the first trilogy authors Derek Benz and J.S. Lewis conceived of.

I never read the original Grey Griffins trilogy, so to come at The Brimstone Key from the perspective of a neophyte to the characters was an interesting one. There's an entire swath of character development and history that I missed out on by not reading the first three books, but Benz and Lewis write so skillfully that I didn't feel lost for a second. The narration gives background without pulling the reader from the story, and switching between the perspectives of Max, Natalia, Harley, and Ernie helped keep the reader abreast of everything that's going on while making certain the reader's not lost.

This new story opens with the Griffins on the eve of transferring into Iron Bridge Academy, a Templar training school for young people who are being trained in the hunting of monsters. But all's not well at Iron Bridge. Soon after the school year starts, changelings (children with fairy blood) begin disappearing -- taken in the dead of night via magical portal. The Griffins realize that the strange hiding place they discovered over the summer, filled with mechanisms and blueprints of clockwork devices, holds more importance than they realized. Especially as one name comes up again and again: Otto Von Strife, the Clockwork King.

Von Strife spent a century locked up in one of the Round Table cards so central to the Grey Griffins series, and when he gets out and starts wreaking havoc, it falls to the Griffins and their Templar allies to move against him. After the climax of the story, I'm certain the rest of the books in the trilogy will keep the adventure moving.

As to the Steampunk elements, Benz and Lewis chose to create Iron Bridge in a city called New Victoria, that retained its Victorian sensibilities, which is on the other side of the veil from Avalon, Minnesota. The children of Iron Bridge dress in Steampunk garb complete with goggles and brass fittings on their outfits -- the goggles are explained because they allow games of Round Table to be played in 3D -- and of course since the Griffins are completely lost in the realm of fashion the authors are allowed the freedom to explain the style of the clothing.

Clockwork robots, Steampunk clothing, and a city that never moved past the Victorian Age are just a few of the fun Steampunk elements within a very, very fun opening to a new trilogy of stories. There's some good tearjerker moments as well, particularly if you've read the original stories that featured the Griffins. That's not to say a reader can't pick up this novel without having read the other ones. I did, and certainly found the story to be engaging, engrossing, and entertaining without feeling lost in the slightest.

I'm definitely looking forward to the second book -- The Relic Hunters, due out in Spring 2011.

And now we move onto a CONTEST!!

There are several prizes available for this fun little contest:

FIRST PRIZE: A copy of THE BRIMSTONE KEY with signed bookmarks, and your choice of one of the following posters:

* SIM Chamber (like the X-Men Danger Room):
Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth place winners will each get their choice of poster. 
Now for The Rules:

In the comments of this post, tell me your wackiest idea for a Steampunk invention that could exist today. Portable mechanical kinotrope? Steam-powered automobile with the ability to brew tea while driving? Artificial limb that runs on mechanics? 

The crazier the invention, the more fun it is. Your inventions will be scored based on plausibility, purpose, and inventiveness, and the contest will end on Friday, November 5.

Oh, and I'm running the same contest at Gear Bits and Clockwork and Doctor Fantastique's Show of Wonders, so remember to head over there to posit your inventions as well. That gives everyone 15 chances to win something! You read that right: 15 chances to win.

All entries must be received by 12 am on Friday, November 5 to be considered.

SPECIAL NOTE: There will be a guest post from J.S. Lewis, co-author of The Brimstone Key, later this week; Mr. Lewis will be talking about the challenges of integrating Steampunk tech into contemporary times.


Monica Marier said...

My steampunk idea is a piano-powered automobile, so one might take part in a marching band, or simply have an alternative mode of travel. The hammers of the piano would activate the pistons, while foot pedals would provide constant pressure to the boiler. The tempo would dictate the speed.

It would have to be a baby grand piano--if it were an upright, visibility would pose a problem. Any music required would have to be printed on ising glass, for the same reasons, which would also act as a windscreen. Personally, though, I would encourage all musicians/drivers to have their music memorized.

Julie Weathers said...

Hmm, this is fun. A steam-powered animatron that plays chess, brews tea and keeps biscuits warm for the match. If the human opponent wins, it dumps tea in his lap.

Unknown said...

My idea would be for a steam-powered car alarm.

When set off, a high-pressure steam whistle is engaged, alerting any nearby constable as to the scandalous shenanigans being engaged upon against your personal conveyence device. A more aggressive addition can be engaged as well which would disperse a minor jet of pressurized vapors against the miscreant as well, causing only mild skin irritation of the hands and face, marking your culprit with the obvious fruits from his or her egregious endeavours.

Available in hot pepper or "New Car" smell.

L. T. Host said...

Of course you want me to be creative. Pft. The wedding sapped all my creativity, so this might be interesting.

How about a mechanical horse? Steam-driven, of course (of course). Except there's room to ride INSIDE the beast instead of on it; and it would have to be on wheels, and controlled by the rider.

Okay, okay. I'm kidding.

*Ahem*. How about a mechanical house? One on legs, a la Baba Yaga. The house could get up and move at any time, out of harm's way, or if you just felt like relocating somewhere new. Everyone's house would be this way, and you would still have to buy new land if you wanted to move your house, but imagine never having to move all your stuff again! The house just picks itself up and walks around with all of it inside! Tornado coming, or a flood? Bam, house stands up and runs away. And it can be any size, from run-down shanty to McMansion.

Linda G. said...

How about a steam-powered reader--one that operates by the steam shooting past artificial vocal chords, and at the same time makes the mandatory cup of tea. Bonus if the reader is in the form of an automaton who can also serve the tea while reading.

dolorah said...

This sounds so awesome! Unfortunately, I scraped by with D's in every science class I was forced to sit through.

I am fascinated by technology, though. Boy would I like to win those novels Matt. Sounds like an introductory series to Steam Punk I could really enjoy - you know, maybe not to far above my level.

But, I won't enter this contest b/c I just can't think around those corners. I'm putting it on my community events sidebar however, and making a post of it tonight. I know a lot of bloggers who brag nerd/geekiness and it sounds just the thing for them.

Good luck with this contest. Sounds like a lot of fun.


sablelexi said...

hmmm...difficult. How about a steam powered attack dog, obviously it will be on wheels, and its main job will be to look scary, this metal dog coming at you, clamping and unclamping its jaws with a disconcerting clack, while blowing steam and making all sorts of mechanical noises. I wouldn't want to mess with it.

jlynettes @ hotmail . com

Shannon said...

Your book sounds great and I love the title.
How about a solar steam hovercraft that plants seeds and harvests tea leaves. It collects moisture from the air and can dip down to a river or lake to fill it's tanks. The solar heats it to make the steam.

Clappy said...

I've missed the deadline for the contest, but I'm amazed by the ideas people came up with.

I'd invent a steam powered device, overly complicated of course, that would change a light bulb. Modern electricity melded with old-school steam. Never again would someone ask, "how many are needed to change a light bulb". With my device it would always be 1.