School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up—Aoife Grayson is terrified that she will go mad when she turns 16. She believes that she carries a latent form of a necrovirus that has already affected her brother, who has disappeared, and her mother, who is locked up in a madhouse. The setting is an alternate version of New England, where Boston is known as Lovecraft, a town powered by a mysterious underground engine and ruled by Proctors who enforce a rationalistic worldview that denies the existence of magic, blames madness on a necrovirus outbreak, and keeps the populace safe from the apocryphal night creatures who are said to feed on human flesh. Aoife, who is studying at Lovecraft's School of Engines, receives a mysterious letter from her missing brother that leads her to escape the city with her friend Cal. The pair recruits Dean Harrison as a guide as they hitch a ride on an airship to Aoife's ancestral mansion, which has long been abandoned except for the young maid, Bethina. At Graystone, Aoife discovers her father's journals that help her to understand her family's secrets and her own destiny. The journals also lead her into a fairy realm, the Land of Thorn, where she meets Tremaine, one of the "Kindly Folk" who may or may not be telling her the truth. Kittredge has fashioned a unique, action-filled, and compelling combination of steampunk, H. P. Lovecraft-inspired horror, and straight fantasy that should enchant fans of all three genres.—Tim Wadham, St. Louis County Library, MO
In her first book for young readers, urban fantasist Kittredge (the Nocturne City series) presents a fevered if somewhat unlikely mashup of steampunk, the Cthulhu mythos, and traditional fairy tale, set in an alternate 1950s America. Talented engineering student Aoife Grayson, the illegitimate daughter of a madwoman and a reclusive scholar, fully expects to go insane on her upcoming 16th birthday because, as her only friend Cal reminds her, "the Grayson line has bad blood. From the first infected on down," and it is clear that the Proctors, who rule the ghoul-haunted, necrovirus-stricken city of Lovecraft, are watching her closely. Fleeing Lovecraft, accompanied by Cal and Dean, her handsome but disreputable heretic guide, Aoife heads for Arkham and her father's ancestral mansion, intent on saving her mad brother, Conrad, from a hideous fate. There she discovers marvelous inventions, gruesome monsters, a complex plot that spans several worlds, and the secret of her own identity. Though the material borrowed from H.P. Lovecraft occasionally calls too much attention to itself, Kittredge generates significant thrills and chills in this fast-moving tale, first in a planned series. Ages 12–up. (Feb.)
VOYA - Amy Fiske
Lovecraft, Massachusetts, is grim place where Rationality is the religion that keeps magic and madness at bay. The ruling Proctors keep a tight rein on citizens in this dark, steampunk fantasy. Aoife Grayson, almost sixteen and one of the few female students at the School of Engines, wants nothing more than to be an engineer in a society run by a giant steam engine. Madness, caused by a necrovirus, is epidemic and has wreaked havoc on her family. Both her mother and brother succumbed to madness on their sixteenth birthdays. Her mother languishes in an asylum; her brother assaults her and vanishes. Aoife struggles to stay focused until she finds a letter from her brother that reads, "Find the witch's alphabet. Save yourself."? The letter launches Aoife on a journey off the map of the known Rational world into a netherworld of secrets, magic and shocking revelations. Can she find her brother and escape the family curse? Kittredge seamlessly merges a steampunk dystopia with supernatural fantasy. The world-building is masterful, richly detailed, and so atmospheric it nearly drips off the page. Aoife is a single-minded heroine on a quest, joined by steadfast friend, Cal, and dangerous underworld bad boy, Dean. The resulting love triangle adds seasoning to the mix. Tension builds and the plot twists until, eventually, no one and nothing is as it seems. Fans of steampunk and supernatural fantasy will love this book and will look forward to the rest of the series. Reviewer: Amy Fiske
Lovecraftian steampunk–urban faerie mashup from an adult paranormal author. Orphaned Aoife Grayson lives in Lovecraft, Mass., where the necrovirus transforms humans to nightmare creatures and reason rules so supreme that believers in magic are called heretics and killed. At the bidding of her mad brother, Aoife, best friend Cal and bad-boy guide Dean flee the safety and rules of Lovecraft for Aoife's father's mansion in Arkham. There she learns she has latent magical power relating to machines and a longstanding family connection to the dark fairy Land of Thorn. Detailed descriptions overwhelm (do readers care about every outfit?), characters don't behave consistently (in one case this eventually proves deliberate, but the twist seems even more implausible than the earlier behavior) and the pieces don't come together until the very end, rather abruptly despite the novel's heft. If readers could put on Aoife's blue-glass goggles to see the bones beneath the overwriting, this would be a winner; sadly, it's hard to imagine most making it through the bloat. Better editing could have saved this. (Steampunk fantasy. YA)
Read an Excerpt
The Ashes of the World
There are seventeen madhouses in the city of Lovecraft. I've visited all of them.
My mother likes to tell me about her dreams when I visit. She sits in the window of the Cristobel Charitable Asylum and strokes the iron bars covering the glass like they are the strings of a harp. "I went to the lily field last night," she murmurs.
Her dreams are never dreams. They are always journeys, explorations, excavations of her mad mind, or, if her mood is bleak, ominous portents for me to heed.
The smooth brass gears of my chronometer churned past four-thirty and I put it back in my skirt pocket. Soon the asylum would close to visitors and I could go home. The dark came early in October. It's not safe for a girl to be out walking on her own, in Hallows' Eve weather.
I called it that, the sort of days when the sky was the same color as the smoke from the Nephilim Foundry across the river, and you could taste winter on the back of your tongue.
When I didn't immediately reply, my mother picked up her hand mirror and threw it at my head. There was no glass in it--hadn't been for years, at least six madhouses ago. The doctors wrote it into her file, neat and spidery, after she tried to cut her wrists open with the pieces. No mirrors. No glass. Patient is a danger to herself.
"I'm talking to you!" she shouted. "You might not think it's important, but I went to the lily field! I saw the dead girls move their hands! Open eyes looking up! Up into the world that they so desperately desire!"
It's a real shame that my mother is mad. She could make a fortune writing sensational novels, those gothics with the cheap covers and breakable spines that Mrs. Fortune, my house marm at the Lovecraft Academy, eats up.
My stomach closed like a fist, but my voice came out soothing. I've had practice being soothing, calming. Too much practice. "Nerissa," I said, because that's her name and we never address each other as mother and daughter but always as Nerissa and Aoife. "I'm listening to you. But you're not making any sense." Just like usual. I left the last part off. She'd only find something else to throw.
I picked up the mirror and ran my thumb over the backing. It was silver, and it had been pretty, once. When I was a child I'd played at being beautiful while my mother sat by the window of Our Lady of Rationality, the first madhouse in my memory, run by Rationalist nuns. Their silent black-clad forms fluttered like specters outside my mother's cell while they prayed to the Master Builder, the epitome of human reason, for her recovery. All the medical science and logic in the world couldn't cure my mother, but the nuns tried. And when they failed, she was sent on to another madhouse, where no one prayed for anything.
Nerissa gave a snort, ruffling the ragged fringe above her eyes. "Oh, am I? And what would you know of sense, miss? You and those ironmongers locked away in that dank school, the gears turning and turning to grind your bones . . ."
I stopped listening. Listen to my mother long enough and you started to believe her. And believing Nerissa broke my heart.
My thumb sank into the depression in the mirror frame, left where an unscrupulous orderly had pried out a ruby, or so my mother said. She accused everyone of everything, sooner or later. I'd been a nightjar, come to drink her blood and steal her life, a ghost, a torturer, a spy. When she turned her rage on me, I gathered my books and left, knowing that we wouldn't speak again for weeks. On the days when she talked about her dreams, the visits could stretch for hours.
"I went to the lily field . . . ," my mother whispered, pressing her forehead against the window bars. Her fingers slipped between them to leave ghost marks on the glass.
Time gone by, her dreams fascinated me. The lily field, the dark tower, the maidens fair. She told them over and over, in soft lyrical tones. No other mother told such fanciful bedtime stories. No other mother saw the lands beyond the living, the rational and the iron. Nerissa had been lost in dreams, in one fashion or another, my entire life.
Now each time I visited I hoped she'd wake up from her fog. And each time, I left disappointed. When I graduated from the Lovecraft Academy, I could be too busy to see her at all, with my respectable job and respectable life. Until then, Nerissa needed someone to hear her dreams, and the duty fell to me. I felt the weight of being a dutiful daughter like a stone strapped to my legs.
I picked up my satchel and stood. "I'm going to go home." The air horn hadn't sounded the end of hours yet, but I could see the dark drawing in beyond the panes.
Nerissa was up, cat-quick, and wrapping her fingers around my wrist. Her hand was cold, like always, and her nightgown fluttered around her skin-and-bones body. I had always been taller, sturdier than my slight mother. I'd say I took after my father, if I'd ever met him.
"Don't leave me here," Nerissa hissed. "Don't leave me to look into their eyes alone. The dead girls will dance, Aoife, dance on the ashes of the world. . . ."
From the Hardcover edition.