Before I start this review, it might be helpful to define a genre that not every reader, particularly a casual one, is familiar with: Magic Realism. It’s not realistic literature. It’s not fantasy or science fiction. It’s…both. Kind of. If you look it up in a dictionary (or search the term online), you’re going to get a lot of Salvador Dali paintings and some paragraphs about Latin literature such as the works of Gabriel Marcia Garcia or Isabel Allende. But what exactly is Magic Realism? Let me use an example that anyone who has seen Reading Rainbow should find comprehensible. Remember Imogene’s Antlers? That picture book where the girl inexplicably (or…magically?) wakes up with antlers and then has to learn to cope with this weirdness in her normal life?
|A page from Imogene's Antlers by David Small|
That’s pretty much Magic Realism. Something magical happens, but instead of the characters reacting as they would in a fantasy novel (i.e. breaking a curse with a magic object) they react to it using every day means. In many ways it resembles old folk tales or even some of the works of Mark Twain (such as The Mysterious Stranger).
Now that we’ve gotten our literary trivia learned for today, let’s move on to the actual review. The Boneshaker by Kate Milford is not to be confused with the similarly titled Boneshaker by Cherie Priest. This latter is a steampunk novel with science fiction and zombies. The former is about a young girl matching wits with automatons, marionettes, and other creepy circus things that just scare the breath out of coulrophobes* like me.
Natalie Minks is a young girl living in a small Missouri town in 1913. Of course in stories whenever there’s a small Southern town that seems like it’s a quiet, normal town, you know it’s not all that it seems. Take Natalie’s mother, who seems to be wasting away from a mysterious non-illness. Or Old Tom, the colored man with an amazing talent for banjo-playing. And if that weren’t enough, in comes a mysterious, ominous carnival run by the crafty Dr. Jake Limberleg. A carnival filled with automatons and other mechanisms that seem to have a will of their own.
The expert artistry of The Boneshaker's prose is gorgeously accented with eerie line drawings by Andrea Offerman, but good luck solving the mystery of what is going on by inspecting the illustrations. I tried. You’re not going to get any spoilers out of me, either. I may not be a small Southern town, but I have secrets, too.
*That is, have a phobia of clowns.
RECOMMENDED READING AGE: I read this when I was 24 and it still scared me (though I am not one to read many books with scary themes). To be save I’d say at least 15 for mature teens.
PARENTAL NOTES: Alright I’ll give some spoilers here, but no fair reading them if you’re not a concerned parent! The main villain is the Devil. This is presented as a spiritual and moral battle between good and evil. It gets pretty scary at times, and for good reason. The Devil is not a person we should take lightly. Tonally this book can be eerie and uncomfortable, so readers who are sensitive to this kind of writing take warning.