Normally, when I review a book, I have it on the desk beside me to I can glance through the pages and jog my memory. Not this time though, because I’m soft. After mentioning the book a couple of times to a girl in my class, she somehow got me to promise to give her the book as soon as I’d finished it. Clearly the bookseller in my is dying a hard death. Really, I should charge.
What genre is Cogheart? If you agree with the assertion (if you don’t, get out) that children’s literature is not a genre but a movement, and one that actually contains all genres and it not limited to fiction, then this novel is steampunk.
In other words, if you enjoy stories in a Victorian setting, but would gladly trade the constant death, oppression of women, poor sanitation and all morally crippling religiousness for spunky female main characters, clockwork gadgets and moustache (and mutton chops) twirling villains, this is your genre. And it’s fantastic.
I immediately love the no-nonsense, let’s just do it because I don’t wanna die attitude of the main character, Lily. Girl got moxie. We first meet her in an exclusive and stifling boarding school for young ladies, which she attends under a fake name. Needless to say, lock picking, Penny Dreadful reading Lily is the black sheep at school as well as the target for bullying at the hands of both her classmates and her teachers. Another thing that sets Lily apart is the affinity she shoes towards mechanicals. Her father being a renowned inventor, Lily was half raised by the family’s household mechs, and loves them as she would any other family member. To everyone else, however, mechs are treated with contempt, in much the same way lower classes would have been in a parallel setting.
I appreciate the subtle debate throughout the story on what constitutes as being alive. Bunzl humanises the mechanical characters to great effect, bringing to them a warmth and lovability that many of the “flesh and blood” characters lack. It makes for some uncomfortable reading during situations where it comes to a toss up between the life of a human and a mechanical person. My approach for this book was usually ‘if in doubt, save the mechanical fox’ because aside from being a talking mechanical fox (come ON!) his often snide wit offsets the more macabre moments in this story. Overall some quality world-building is evident in Bunzl’s writing but never did I feel as though I was wading through information dumps.
Cogheart is a high-flying adventure story with well written characters, plenty of chemistry and truly creepy villains (spoiler: they have mirrors for eyes, and the surgeon wasn’t too neat about it.) It contains a satisfying plot twist and a there is plenty at stake to keep readers of any age mesmerised until the turning of the final page.