Tuesday, July 07, 2015

A Mole at the Automaton Inn: The Ire of Iron Claw (Gadgets and Gears) by Kersten Hamilton

In a flash, I knew two things without a doubt.

The Dusketeers had shown me his evil purpose. And Gizmo's garbled "Waaaamussssnoooootllllll...k-k-k--!" clearly meant, "Walter must not launch his kite!"

I wheeled, wagging frantically in an attempt to reach the roof before Wally set the kite aloft. But I was too late.

The kite was racing skyward as my paws touched down next to Wally. I heard a harsh metallic clang, followed too quickly by a deafening explosion as the shock knocked Wally from his feet and sent me tumbling to the base of Tesla's tower.

"I told you he was going to blow something up," Mrs. McDivit announced as concerned citizens rushed past her. "Mad Mars has returned! Flee for your lives."

Despite the best efforts of loyal automatons--housekeeper Gizmo and the house-cleaning troop of rabbity Dusketeers-- and the services of his loyal flying dachshund Noodles, some evil force has attempted yet again to destroy boy inventor Wally Kinnewickett and his mentor, scientist Nicola Testa, the Wizard of the West, along with his magnum opus, the towering Atmospheric Electron Collector which will be capable of using the earth's magnetic field to generate endless electricity. Tesla has many powerful enemies--Thomas Edison, whose dream is that his direct current will power the world, and his rival advocating alternating current, George Westinghouse. But it is clear to Wally and his parents Calypso and Oliver Kennewickett that the explosion proves that their Automaton Inn has a mole, a person spying for Mad Madini, the master of mesmerism, and his evil henchmen, the Mesmers.

Noodles, whose wings are powered purely by his wagging tale, knows that if the Mesmers can overcome the Kennewickett's staff of electrically charged and programmed automatons, his purely doggy powers will be needed, and sure enough, as the family sets forth to apprehend Madini in Italy in their steam-powered airship the Daedalus, the flight is uneventful only until they set out across the Atlantic. First they are pursued by pirates, in a coal-powered, paddle-powered airship that manages to fire upon the Daedelus and cause a slow leak that threatens to bring them before they reach the water's edge in France.

"Gizmo!" Oliver called. "Speed and distance calculations?"

"We will make it to shore, sir," the automaton said.

"But what then?" asked Melvin.

"One conundrum at a time, dear." said Calypso. "Prepare to disembark."

I whirled to find myself face-to-face with a nightmare. An enormous spider was stepping over the tree. Its shovel-like palpi were waving wildly.

"Bonjour!" it boomed cheerfully. "Do you require assistance?"

Although the Kennewicketts are rescued from the privateers of the skies by their fellow French scientist, their troubles continue when Monsieur Fevre's eight-legged, coal-burning Arachne transport arrives to ferry them over the Alps to their destination.

But Noodles cannot rest easy, especially when they disembark. The city streets are infused with the smell of popcorn and there are far too many pigeons about for Noodles' mind to be at ease, remembering vividly as he does their last encounter with Madini and his automaton pigeon Iron Claw. And when they meet up with cousin Melvin's Grand Touring parents, Wentworth and Mame, Wally's aunt and uncle seem somehow not themselves.

"Why don't you stay awhile?" Wentworth said. "We'll hop right over to see the mayor."

"Hop?" Melvin asked.

"Strut. I mean, stroll. Lovely day for a stroll." He tilted his head and watched a bug scurry across the sidewalk.

"Mother! Are you both... quite well?"

"Of course, dear," the materfamilias said. "We're both in fine feather. Er, fettle."

Suspicions confirmed, Noodles gets ready to wag up his wings. He knows that there is another climactic struggle with Madini and Iron Claw in the works, in The Ire of Iron Claw: Gadgets and Gears, Book 2 (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2015).

In the second book in her series, the author takes her early twentieth-century electronic wizards into another quirky steampunk adventure. A creative look at what were thought at the time to be mad scientists, Kersten Hamilton builds this tale around the real persona of Nicola Tesla, whose work met with great disbelief in his time, but which has powered modern science into new inventions and even has an electric car corporation now named in his honor. As narrator, the power-wagging flying dachshund Noodles serves as both comic superhero and lexicographer for middle readers offering definitions of the most arcane of early twentieth-century terms. Saved again by Noodles' quick-wagging tail and courage, it looks as if Wally Kennewickett, with his family and friends Teddy Roosevelt and Nicola Testa, will probably have young readers as guests at the Automaton Inn yet another time in this continuing series.

Kersten Hamiton's first book, also wittily illustrated by James Hamilton, was The Mesmer Menace (Gadgets and Gears) (see my review here.)

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