My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I really enjoyed this one. Full disclosure: I did win this on Goodreads (and the author not only sent the autographed book but some swag and a card which was very nice. I liked that she took the time) in exchange for a review. That did not in any way influence my review.
Age wise these characters would put this at middle grade readers (Isaveth is 12) but it doesn't shy away from some very adult concepts like religious intolerance and classism. It might not be a bad idea for middle grade readers to see how much damage these things can do.
Anyhow, this is sort of an alternative North America around the beginning of radio and movies since it has 'crystal sets' and radio shows and Isaveth does mention someone being handsome enough for a 2 reeler (which I'm assuming might be a movie). Isaveth and her sisters are having a very hard time of it. Their mother died of an illness a year before. Annagail, the eldest, is working in a shirt factory trying to help their stone mason father make ends meet. Even so they barely have enough to get by, partially because Tarreton seems to be in a depression and partially because they are Moshite, an off shoot of the main religion (and of course marked by wearing prayer shawls daily which basically function as a target). You could draw analogies to the prejudice against Jews or Muslims but more accurately the turn of the century battles between Catholic and Protestant might be more apt. Regardless, there is a good deal of religious intolerance highlighted against the sisters.
Dad’s good news, that he will get to help make the charmer for the college thanks to Governor Orien, goes sideways when later that day someone using exploding magic tablets (like the type a stone mason would use) has murdered Orien and Dad gets the blame. Worse as Isaveth quickly finds out he was part of a group that could be likened to the first fighters to make unions. They also want to form what would basically be the House of Commons to go along with the House of Lords. In fact, Eryx Lordling, the heir to the country’s rule, the next SageLord, seems to be backing a bill to make this happen and Orien opposed it.
Isaveth’s first concern it to keep her sisters fed, something they won’t be able to do on Anna’s salary alone. She makes magic tablets (sort of peasant magic that the Nobles and the Sagelord frown on). An accident during selling them brings her to the notice of both Eryx (Vettie falls under his charms) and the one-eyed boy who ran her down in the first place. Quiz as the boy likes to be called saves her first from the neighbor bully and throws his lot in with Isaveth to help prove her father is innocent of the crime (drawing inspiration from her favorite crystal set radio show heroine).
Together Isaveth and Quiz have to unravel the clues to prove who murdered Orien, how and why which could have huge implications, especially politically. And there is more to Quiz than meets the eye. Admittedly I figured out what fairly easily but I’m also not a middle grade reader having more than twice Isaveth’s age in mystery reading experience.
I loved Isaveth and Quiz. They are very likeable characters. They are bright and resourceful. Vettie is independent and strong. She does trust Quiz a little easily but she’s twelve and desperate so allowances made. I did find the ending a bit…not really a let down but frustrating as far as how it ends. However, in reality, given the players and the motives and the old adage money talks, I’m not sure how else it could have ended. I’d love to see more adventures for these two.
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