Mechanica: a Beginner's Field Guide, by Lance Balchin

It is hard to believe now, but there was a time when the Earth was bountiful. Its seas teemed with marine life, there was an abundance of vegetation and wildlife on the land, and the ozone contained a perfect balance of natural chemical reactions.

In the late twenty-second century the Earth is very different than it once was. With the actions of human kind having changed the face of the Earth and the balance of nature, in particular the loss of insects and birds. In response to this, mechapets were created, elaborate machines which replicated the beauty and action of the living beings. Unfortunately, drone armies formerly used to fight wars have gone rogue and bred with the mechapets to produce mechanica, complex but problematic machine-beasts.

Liberty Crisp has long been fascinated with mechanica, having grown up with the opportunity to study them at the side of her scientist parents, and her tutor, Reginald P. Prescott, also an expert. When Liberty and Reginald have to flee their home of Sarawsati, they travel the world studying and documenting the mechanica.

Mechanica, subtitled a beginners field guide is an illustrated guide tot he mechanical beasts which inhabit this imagined future Earth, including detailed pictures, vital statistics and field notes, as well as an introduction (entitled A Brief History) and an Addendum which will leave the reader thinking about what might happen next.

this futuristic steampunk offering is in the form of a large hardcover picturebook and will appeal to middle and upper primary aged readers through to adults who will enjoy the fine art and the cleverness of the concept.

Mechanica, by Lance Balchin
Five Mile Press, 2016
ISBN 9781760401085

Bureau of Mysteries and the Mechanomancers, by HJ Harper

I was about to take refuge under a table when a shadow fell across the hotel room, and I looked up to find a bull picking its way down Main Street. But this was no regular bovine: it stood three stories tall and was made of metal. Its iron hide glinted in the bright sunlight as clouds of steam snorted from its nostrils. The bull pawed at the earth and let out a bellow so loud it hurt my ears.

The land of Obscuria is in trouble once again. as crafty Mechanomancers wreak havoc. Blending magic with technology the giant trouble makers seem usntoppable. Even George and his partner Imp Spektor, and their fellows in the Bureau of Mysteries, are struggling to find a mix – but the heroic adventurer Lord Perwinkle Tinkerton seems to know how to overcome the menace. Could he be that with Tinkerton on the job, the Bureau is no longer relevant?

The Mechanomancers is the second in the Bureau of Mysteries series, a fast paced, code-cracking, humorous adventure for primary aged readers. With a steam punk flavour, and plenty of weird characters and messy scrapes, there’s a lot here to like.

Told from the first person perspective of George Featehr, a former chimney sweeper who has been taken into the Bureau because of his abilities to crack codes, the story moves quickly, encouraging readers to stop and have a go at cracking various codes, but allowing them to also progress without doing it for themselves.

Although this is the second in a series, it can be read independently of the first.

Bureau of Mysteries 2 (Bureau of Mysteries)

The Mechanomancers (Bureau of Mysteries), by HJ Harper, illustrated by Nahum Ziersch
Random House, 2013
ISBN 9781742756486

Available online or from good bookstores.

Blaze of Glory, by Michael Pryor

Before the accident, Aubrey knew he would have completed the challenge without difficulty…he’d always managed to surprise people with his determination in running, boxing or games. Boys much larger than him had learned that provoking skinny Aubrey to fight could be a poor idea. He could drag himself over broken glass if he set his mind to it.
But since the disastrous magical experiment, things were different. Balanced on the edge of true death as he was, physical strain – even emotional strain – could tip him over. He only kept the semblance of a normal existence by a combination of arcane spells and strength of mind. If his magic failed, it would be the end of him.

Aubrey Fitzwilliam is far from being an ordinary boy. His father is an ex-prime minister, his grandmother a dame, and he himself is a skilled magician. But it his magic which has landed him in trouble – because technically Aubrey is dead, even though those around him are unaware of the fact. To complicate matters, two prominent magicians have dies in suspicious circumstances, and an attempt to assassinate the Crown Prince is foiled when Aubrey and his friend George disturb a Golem sent to perform the assassination.

Blaze of Glory is the first in Michael Pryor’s Laws of Magic series, and a first instalment which will have readers eagerly seeking out the next. Aubrey is a nicely flawed main character – good at so many things, but rash and a little arrogant, and unable to communicate with the girl who takes his eye. There is plenty of action and a fantasy world which is delightfully parallel to the real world of pre-World War One, with notable differences including the existence and acceptance of magic.

Suitable for teens and for adult readers, this outstanding tale is as good as fantasy gets.

Blaze of Glory (Laws of Magic)

Blaze of Glory, by Michael Pryor
Random House, 2006

Heart of Gold, by Michael Pryor

Aubrey Fitzwilliam knew that crisis was another word for opportunity. He simply wished that he saw more of the latter and less of the former.

Aubrey Fitzwilliam’s life is never boring. Ordinarily, he wouldn’t mind the excitement but having just finished his final exams, he is hoping for a bit of a break to see the sights of Lutetia with his best friend George. He’s hoping, while he’s there, to find a cure for his condition and to catch up with the lovely Caroline, but soon his family are lining up to give him other tasks to undertake and he’s wondering if there’ll be any time for himself.

In Lutetia, the capital of Gallia, Aubrey and George become aware of strange goings-on. Someone is stealing people’s souls, leaving them as empty shells. Then Aubrey and George witness the theft of the Heart of Gold, the country’s lifeline. Together with Caroline, they set out to find the Heart, stop the soul stealer and restore Lutetia to its glory.

Heart of Gold is the second instalment in the Laws of Magic trilogy. An exciting, well built fantasy, it draws readers in to a world which is at once familiar yet different. The narrative has a comfortable feel, making it easy to read and to believe in, and thoroughly absorbing. Aubrey is a skilled magician, an adventurer and a clever detective, yet he is also very much a teenager, capable of the foibles of youth, and readers will be able to relate to his inadequacies, especially in matters of the heart.

A spellbinding read.

Heart of Gold: Laws of Magic 2

Heart of Gold, by Michael Pryor
Random House, 2007

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