The Wingsnatchers, Sarah Jean Horwitz (Algonquin 978-1-61620-663-51, $17.95, 368pp, hc) April 2017.
Debut novelist Sarah Jean Horwitz brings together some of the best aspects of steampunk and fantasy in The Wingsnatchers, a fun novel set in the Victorian London-ish town of Skemantis. (Where the streets teem with “a churning mass of steam carriages, bicycles, velocycles and pedestrians….”) Thirteen-year-old Felix Carmer works as an apprentice to the congenial but fading magician “Antoine the Amazifier,” churning through the small town circuit that barely provides them with enough funds to make a living. The city of Skemantis is home to the big leagues, and the Seminal Symposium of Magickal Arts where Antoine hopes to regain his stature as a great magician. No one, least of all young Felix, expects to discover a new magic on display at the symposium, nor the nefarious source of its power and its threat to the city’s faerie kingdom.
The other half of The Wingsnatchers is Grettifrida, a flightless faerie princess, who defiantly goes by the nickname “Grit.” Her problems stem from family responsibilities as the heir apparent and her nonworking wings, which are stubbornly merely ornamental. Grit spends a lot of time challenging her mother and almost getting into serious trouble. But by leaving her pampered existence, she also sees a lot of things that other faeries miss, and she frequently walks the line between the various factions in the faery world (and underworld). Her sudden physical collision with Felix is unexpected for both of them, but quickly proves significant in multiple ways. Their teamwork exposes a power-mad villain hiding in the world of magicians and inspiring terror among the faeries. Throw in some deadly mechanical cats and heroic wooden puppets and you clearly have the stuff of unique teen fantasy.
Comparisons between this first Carmer and Grit title and the Spiderwick Chronicles are apt, and fans of the latter will find a lot to enjoy in this equally complex and hidden world. As Grit zips around the city via owl or squirrel and makes her home in a massive tree in a large central park, readers will quickly fall for her quirky world and punk attitude. Meanwhile Felix buries himself in his motorized coach building automata and crafting illusions as he tries to beat his evil magician opponent at his own game. Between them, Carmer and Grit are smart, determined and endlessly curious, a bickering pair of fantastical teen detectives who live in a place filled with dark mystery and wicked cool magic. From the outstanding cover to the ending ripe for a sequel, Horwitz has much to be proud of with this title, and younger teens in particular will rip through its pages.
Colleen Mondor, Contributing Editor, is a writer, historian, and reviewer who co-owns an aircraft leasing company with her husband. She is the author of “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska” and reviews regularly for the ALA’s Booklist. Currently at work on a book about the 1932 Mt. McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition, she and her family reside in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. More info can be found on her website: www.colleenmondor.com.
This review and more like it in the February 2018 issue of Locus.
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