The League of Seven (League of Seven, book one)
By Alan Gratz, illustrated by Brett Helquist
Expected publication August 19, 2014 by Starscape
Archie's parents have taught him the truth about their world - monsters exist and without the Septemberists and the League of Seven, those monsters would rule the world. So, when his parents are brainwashed and become pawns of an evil Mangleborn, Archie knows it's up to him to stop the evil from rising.
An ARC of this book showed up at my library a couple months ago and I set it aside, thinking it looked interesting and hoping I could find some time to read it before adding it to our giveaway books. I snuck in some reading time recently and bunkered down with this book.
I'll admit, this book didn't grab me right away. There is a lot of explanation in the first 50-60 pages that feels info-dumpy and definitely didn't leave me feeling interested in the story. I understand that Gratz is setting up his world - a steampunk, alternate version of 1870s America and that involves a lot of work. However, there are usually better ways to do it than just throwing a bunch of information at your readers. It's not as bad as it could be, which is something, but it kicked the book off on a bit of a slow start.
It's interesting because, despite my lack of enthusiasm for the first part of the book, when a colleague asked me about it, I explained the relevant bits and she said, "well, that sounds really cool." I think maybe this is what bothered me most about that first chunk of book - the premise here is really interesting and definitely has kid appeal, so to bog it down in all these details in the way that Gratz does just feels frustrating.
Once I got past that little bit at the beginning, though, this book definitely picked up the pace. The action is pretty much non-stop, which definitely works well for kids. More details of the interesting alternate world that Gratz has built come out in the story - all of which I found fascinating (I quite enjoy both steampunk and alternate history). I thought Gratz did a great job with the characters as well - I really empathized with Archie and I liked getting to know Hachi and Fergus. They are all characters with diverse back stories and I think, as a team, they work well together. I could certainly see myself reading more of their adventures. As you might imagine from the series title, there are sure to be a few more characters introduced in future volumes and I'm definitely looking forward to discovering them and their stories as well. One of the things I like about alternate history is the appearance of famous historical figures and I think Gratz does it well here, using names that will likely be familiar to kids. Like many recent reads for middle-graders, this book definitely has a science aspect that Common Core lovers will find appealing. Personally, I don't care so much, but I do like it when a book can spark an interest in a real world topic.
Overall, I think this book will definitely appeal to readers looking for a new adventure upon which to embark. I'll be looking forward to book two and be recommending this while I wait!
Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.