Friday, December 10, 2010

21. A Magical Debut

The Clockwork Three, by Matthew J. Kirby, Scholastic, $17.99, ages 9-12, 400 pages. Three children desperate for a better life are mysteriously drawn together and, in a frantic quest to help one another, bring a clockwork man to life and save a great woodland hall. In this wondrous debut, an orphaned 11-year-old busker, Giuseppe, sets in motion a mystery adventure that will require all three of them to put their trust in each other. One day after a ship is lost at sea, Giuseppe finds an enchanted green violin that's washed into the harbor. He begins playing it on the streets behind his padrone's back so he can put away money to buy passage home to Italy. Knowing his padrone would put him in a rat cellar or beat him if he found out, Giuseppe hides the violin and the money in a cemetery crypt. One day after leaving the crypt, he sees a strange sight at the docks, a rope holding a crate breaks and a round bronze head rolls out. Little does he know, it's the head of a legendary automaton, and the magician who made it claimed the head could talk.

Then, as Guiseppe heads back to his padrone's, he stumbles upon two gang runners beating up a boy and fools them into letting the boy go. The boy, Frederick, is a clockmaker's apprentice, and has secrets of his own. Rescued from a workhouse by Master Branch, he fixes clocks by day and sneaks into the basement to build a clockwork man at night. The man, an automaton, is now nearly finished, but it still needs a head and an engine to drive it, and if he can make them, the automaton could be his ticket to independence. Instead of being just an apprentice, he could be a journeyman and open his own shop. Though driven, Frederick is also haunted by his past, by the cruelties he faced at the orphanage at the hands of the wicked Mrs. Treeless and by questions about how he came to the orphanage. He meets a 12-year-old Hannah, first in passing on the street and again when her employer commissions a work from the clock shop, who reaches out to him. Hannah asks him if he ever thought of looking for his mother, who left him at the orphanage years ago, and offers to help him search for her. But she too has the weight of the world on her shoulders. Forced to quit school and support her family as a maid after her papa, a stonemason, lost his speech and strength in an accident, Hannah is desperate to help her family. One day, she overhears her supervisors talk about a treasure in the top-floor suite of the hotel where she works and before she knows it, she's being sent up there to attend to a peculiar guest, a spiritualist named Madame Pomeroy. Madame Pomeroy claims to speak with the dead, refers to her bodyguard Yakov as her "golem," and immediately takes a liking to Hannah and hires her as her assistant. She tells Hannah that Hannah's at a balancing point, and there is conflict in her future that could reverse the order of things in her life, and soon Hannah has more trouble than she knows what to do with. One day Hannah returns home to discover that her father's leg has become gravely infected and he needs medicine they can't afford, so Hannah makes a desperate choice. She steals a diamond necklace from Madame Pomeroy to pay for the medicine, only to get caught when she tries to sell it off. Now her only chance to help her father may be to search McCauley Park, the last wild place in the city for the treasure. But why is the fiddler Giuseppe hiding in the park? And what's this about the park's charter expiring? Could Hannah, Giuseppe and Frederick work together to find the things each needs most? This is a marvelous tale that will keep you guessing at every turn

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