Victorian- and Edwardian-era England — whether in our own history or in an alternate reality — provides a vivid backdrop for these YA tales of derring-do.
Performers in a Victorian freak show are detective heroes in Kieran Larwood’s Freaks. Sheba, a hirsute girl who can morph into wolf form, joins with a “monkey boy,” a gigantic man, a Japanese ninja girl with cat’s eyes, and Mama Rat (custodian of intelligent rodents) to save London street urchins from a predatory group of scientific inventors. Larwood emphasizes loyalty, solidarity, and each character’s special gifts while orchestrating his plot, and evokes the Victorian setting with color and creative verve. (8–11 years, Chicken House/Scholastic)
Fourteen-year-old Sophronia is recruited by Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality in Gail Carriger’s Etiquette & Espionage, set in a parallel Victorian England. Sophronia quickly discovers that Mademoiselle Geraldine’s is no ordinary finishing school; in addition to the requisite societal niceties, girls learn “the fine arts of death, diversion, and the modern weaponries” aboard the academy’s dirigible. Blending suspense and elements of the school story, this first series entry introduces teen readers to a thrilling supernatural-meets-steampunk world. (11 years and up, Little)
Rory and her friends in the Shades, modern-day London’s answer to the Ghostbusters, return and regroup after defeating a spectral Jack the Ripper copycat killer in Maureen Johnson’s The Name of the Star. In the sequel The Madness Underneath, Rory hesitates to use her new supernatural ability to destroy spirits, even as suspicious deaths suggest that the Ripper’s destruction may have simply unleashed more malevolent ghosts from London’s past. Fans of the first book will be intrigued to see where the series goes next. (11 years and up, Putnam)
Adrienne Kress’s Edwardian London–set novel The Friday Society introduces Cora, Nellie, and Michiko, who meet after they stumble across the body of a scientist. The whodunit mystery deepens when someone blows up St. Paul’s Cathedral and threatens to annihilate all of London. While there’s some real drama here, a sense of frothy fun prevails, bolstered by winks at genre convention and by three kick-ass females with complementary strengths and distinctive personalities. A sequel is assured. (11 years and up, Dial)
From the March 2013 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.