Source: eARC via Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars :star :star :star :star
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
“Ten-year-old Jack Foster has stepped through a doorway and into quite a different London.
Londinium is a smoky, dark, and dangerous place, home to mischievous metal fairies and fearsome clockwork dragons that breathe scalding steam. The people wear goggles to protect their eyes, brass grill insets in their nostrils to filter air, or mechanical limbs to replace missing ones.
Over it all rules the Lady, and the Lady has demanded a new son—a perfect flesh-and-blood child. She has chosen Jack. Jack’s wonder at the magic and steam-powered marvels in Londinium lasts until he learns he is the pawn in a very dangerous game. The consequences are deadly, and his only hope of escape, of returning home, lies with a legendary clockwork bird.
The Gearwing grants wishes. Or it did, before it was broken. Before it was killed. But some things don’t stay dead forever.”
Once in awhile I see a cover so magnificent, so extraordinary, that the rest of the world goes blank and all I can think is “I NEED THIS BOOK.” As you may have guessed, that is precisely what happened in the case of Flights and Chimes. I mean, that cover....even the title is amazing. A steampunk adventure for middle grade readers? Sign me up! So I did. Sign up, that is. I even bought the book before I read the review copy, just so I could see that gorgeous cover on my shelf.
Ok so now that I've established how crazy I am and how I have a weakness that I call cover-lust, let me tell you why this book was as amazing to read as it is to look at. It's about a boy named Jack Foster. He's an only child, and his parents don't give him much attention. It's set in old fashioned London (no year is specifically mentioned). Jack is on holiday from boarding school so he is home. A strange man named Lorcan is introduced to Jack as his mothers new "spiritualist" /magician. But what he really wants is to kidnap Jack and bring him into his world, Londonium, so he can be the son to the Lady. The Lady is an ageless queen who is a bit nuts, who wants a boy with no mechanical parts.
Along the way Jack meets a very madcap group of misfits: Beth, a mechanical girl who resembles a doll (you have to wind her up so she can speak), a strange Doctor, and Xeno, more of a metaphysical doctor. The philosophical question of "what is a soul?" Is posed in a very interesting way throughout the novel. If you took Beth apart, and had all her tiny little pieces, but put them back together again, would it still be Beth? What about the soul? If you killed a robot would it be murder? Because the beings in Londonium are all partly mechanical, due to the horrible atmosphere and unclean air. Yet, fairies and magic exist, and there are ways to get souls.
Jack, fascinated by all he sees in Londonium, isn't sure he wants to go back to London. Why should he? He has a mother who barely sees him and a father who is never home. But things take a dire turn and Jack begins to learn a lot about himself and the nature of the world while in Londonium.
This story was really enjoyable to read. It felt like a mix between The Chronicles of Narnia and Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy. I loved the steampunk elements and the creepy Lady who doesn't age. Jack was a good character, and Beth was adorable. The imagery was splendid, I really felt like I could picture the dark cogs that made up Londonium, and the people who all looked the same except for one mechanical limb or eye. I can't recommend this story enough. Whether you're a middle grade reader who loves adventure books; or an adult who enjoys a well written story, this book is a must read. It will appeal to many different readers across a wide age range and the mix of genres is refreshing.