Publication Date: December 21, 2018
He was stuck in a hell of sorts, and there was no escape.
The story unfolds in London 275 years after the Great Disruption of 1605 when a magic portal opened up to pour out its light creating magic which Professor Brixton Flew uses at Rembrandt Academy to teach his students to design fantastic buildings, machines, and objects. However, Brixton does not enjoy his job. He wants to join the Royal Airship Force, but the debt he owes Rembrandt Academy and the result of a love he regretted but couldn’t forget, kept him from his dreams.
There are three main domains of magic… There is the power to create, to change, and to destroy. Every dichotomy of magic stems from those distinctions.
At the Academy when Brixton worked with Adelaide Faven on her dragon heart machine trying to turn magic into electricity, he felt a bond with her because of their similar lonely backgrounds and powerful magic. However, Ada could not control her magic due to the Chinese curse on her family and which is why she wore workshop gloves all of the time to keep from hurting others, including Brixton.
When Brixton finds out Adelaide is behind the clock tower attack he is thrown into her world of Chinese legend and Adelaide’s family secrets including her formidable and evil great-grandmother Tàitai, or Lady Fang. Will the curse be lifted at the consequence of mass destruction? Will Brixton and Adelaide never have the joy of being together?
I loved Johnson’s clever references to famous persons such as Edison and Davinci. Also, her descriptions of the fictional magic portal and mech-dragon during turn-of-the-century London is vivid and magical.
The characters have real feelings with real problems that many can relate to though my favorite character wasn’t a person at all, but Brixton’s magical watch named Mr. Ticker-Ticker-Time Taker or Ticker for short. I especially laughed at Ticker’s austere British voice of reason as Brixton did something troubling. Ticker is a fun and important addition to the story.
I rarely read fantasies; not because I don’t like them, but because of the myriad of characters and plots within the story which are hard to write about in a short review. However, I didn’t find that with this book and was able to follow along quite well. I highly recommend this debut magical steampunk fantasy book about believing in yourself, pursuing your dreams and overcoming obstacles.
Thank you to Ms. Johnson and R & R Book Tours for letting me be a part of this virtual book tour with no expectation of a positive review given.
His sixteen-year-old self was scurrying past the materials room when he heard his name spoken with a soft, foreign lilt. The sound broke through him like a magic spell, disrupting his intellectual musings and forcing him into an uncomfortable position.
He was in a hurry; his professor would be upset if he was late for class. As a star pupil, Brixton knew he had a certain reputation to live up to, and he had learned well not to call any negative attention to himself.
But at the sound of Adelaide Favan calling for him, he felt helpless—helplessly nervous and helplessly intrigued. It was almost as if some part of him had been waiting for her to call, and he had been more than ready to answer.
Out of guilt, if nothing else.
He nearly lost his grip on the stack of books he carried as he stumbled to a stop and glanced back at the doorway to the materials room. He could see a slim shadow at the back, where her dark skirts whipped around as she moved between stations, pulling out supplies and looking for spare coils, cogs, or anything else she decided she needed.
He did not have the faintest notion why she would be calling him. Adelaide never seemed to talk to anyone unless it was out of necessity.
“Are you coming in or not?” Adelaide straightened, looking up at him from behind a thick pair of black-rimmed goggles, the kind that magnified her eyes behind the protective glass.
Brixton felt a quick twinge of regret. She always wore them when she was working on something. He had a sinking feeling he was going to be late for class—but he stepped into the room regardless.
“I’m surprised,” she said as he tentatively approached her.
“Why? You were the one who called me.”
“Is that what I need to do to get your attention?” Adelaide put her hands on her hips as she stepped back from the table, where a box full of wires and screws and other various building materials winked up at him.
Brixton felt his face turn red. “If you’re talking about earlier, I—”
“I don’t want to talk about earlier,” Adelaide said. “You know who my father is. Do you think your friends are the first people to make fun of me because of my family?”
“They’re not my friends. Not exactly.” Brixton sighed. “They’re just people we go to school with. You don’t have to be friends with them. You just have to get along with them until we graduate.”
“Is that your plan?”
He shifted his feet as the clocks chimed loudly, the pleasant ringing turning sour in his ears. He was officially late for class. Brixton glanced back at the door.
Adelaide did not pay attention to the clock. She saw to her work, fiddling with one of the gearshifts. Brixton noticed she was also still wearing her workshop gloves. Along with her goggles, they were a semi-permanent part of her wardrobe. They were thick and black, going up past her elbows. The school issued them as part of the engineering department; Brixton hated wearing them, since the synthetic material of the gloves interfered with his ability to use magic. Adelaide was the only one who consistently wore them.
“It’s mostly my plan,” he said, finally answering her.
“Seems like a silly plan, especially for the next four years.”
“Earlier, when those girls were picking on you, I didn’t say anything—”
“I said I didn’t want to talk about earlier. People have made comments about me all my life. Getting accepted into Rembrandt two years earlier than everyone else is merely another unearned privilege in their eyes.”
Her voice was calm, but Brixton saw that her fingers, even buried in her large gloves, shook ever so slightly.
“I don’t presume—”
“But you do.” Adelaide pushed up her goggles onto her forehead again, brushing back her long black hair.
Brixton hated how he stared at her. Up close, her eyes were cloudy gray, speckled over with a silver lining. He noticed they were slanted, ever so slightly; along with her flattened nose and full lips, there were plenty of hints at her Chinese heritage. He had heard the whispers of her family, especially her father, the famous Captain Favan who led Her Royal Majesty’s Airship Force.
That was one of the main reasons he had tried to befriend her before. Brixton had approached her when she was first introduced to their class, eager to talk about her father’s legacy and how it was his dream to be in the Airship Force one day, too. Adelaide had ignored him then, brushing off his introduction.
Remembering that, he frowned. She has some nerve, admonishing me for poor manners.
He cleared his throat to give himself a moment to recover. “You should know you’re presuming that I’m presuming something. I don’t know you well enough to presume anything.”
For the first time, Adelaide softened her expression. Brixton briefly wondered if he had hurt her feelings, or if it was possible he had successfully pointed out her double standards.
She tugged the goggles down over her eyes a moment later, returning to the project before her. She said nothing as she picked up a suturing iron and began to burn a twisted bunch of wires together.
For a long moment, Brixton watched her. Despite her gloves, her movements were very precise—so precise that they almost seemed awkward.
Just like the rest of her, he thought with a small smile.
Adelaide was fourteen years old, two years younger than everyone else at Rembrandt. She had transferred into the school during the middle of their second semester, and ever since their failed first meeting, Brixton kept his distance from her, even if he continued to watch her out of the corner of his eye. He knew the others in his class teased her for her youth, her connections, and her ancestry.
He could sympathize with her some in that regard, given he received plenty of his own mockery. He was only at Rembrandt because of his scholarship. Most of the students were from the aristocracy, and the idea of rich merchants or lower-class workers—such as his parents—sending their children to Rembrandt was nothing short of scandalous.
He easily dismissed those who badgered him; he was here for an education, and nothing more.
But as Brixton gazed down at Adelaide, he suddenly wondered if she was able to do the same.
She was such a small thing. She was not only two years his junior, but she was also at least a foot shorter. The Rembrandt Academy uniform nearly swallowed up her body. He could see her vest was pinned in the back, and her long skirt was clearly hemmed. Brixton had a feeling she liked to wear the goggles on her forehead if for no other reason than they lent her another two inches in height.
“Why did you call me?” Brixton asked, daring himself to speak again.
Adelaide bit her lip, and Brixton found himself staring again.
Finally, she sighed. “I need you.”
His breath caught and his body went still. He was only able to move after she added, “I need your help.”
The words came out with a ripe bitterness in each syllable, and Brixton almost laughed at her discomfort. It was clear she never asked for help if she could avoid it.
He cleared this throat again, swallowing the last of his laughter, and nodded. “Tell me what it is.”
“I need help assembling this,” Adelaide said, pointing to the neat array of metal scraps and parts before her.
“What is it?”
“A dragon heart.”
“Beg pardon?” Brixton dropped his books, missing the table and causing them to clatter to the floor. He was certain he had misheard her as he bent to pick them up, but he was even more surprised when she laughed.
Her eyes were pushed back into slits behind her goggles, giving her a wizened, animated look as her smile widened. Brixton stared at her as he picked up his books and stacked them neatly beside hers.
“I’m only kidding,” Adelaide said, before she arched her brow. “Or maybe I’m not. Either way, I need your help with this part.”
She opened the top panel and pointed to a small knot of wires lined with alloy and copper. “This is an energy loop I’ve been working on. It’s a special type of power source. The Board wants to develop more efficient batteries, especially since the Edison Project has shown promise. Now they want to see what the wielders can do to improve it.”
“I talked with Professor Ohm about this,” Brixton said. “He wanted to find a way to generate perpetual energy. He thought electricity could possibly be infused with magic.”
“I know. I overheard your conversation after class a few days ago.”
“You did?” Brixton took the suturing iron out of her hand.
“He was dismissive of the idea as an alternative life source, but he was interested in seeing if you could figure out how to make his own theories work.”
He bit down on his cheek. He knew which conversation Adelaide was referring to, and it was one where Professor Ohm spent several minutes admonishing him for his eclectic reading tastes.
“What?” Adelaide asked.
“It’s rude to eavesdrop.”
She jutted her chin forward. “It’s also rude to ignore people who need help.”
“I don’t know if you’re saying that to make me feel bad about before, or if it’s just to make sure I stay here and help you,” Brixton muttered. “Do you care to tell me which?”
“I have an extra pair of gloves if you need them,” Adelaide offered.
He rolled his eyes as she sidestepped his question. “I don’t use them if I can help it.” He called up the power that resided inside of him. He could feel it flowing from his heart down to his fingertips, filling his palm. “I like working with my hands better. It’s easier to conjure up my talent. That’s my magic, as you might have known already. I can build things. Anything, really.”
“Well, no wonder you’re so good at this.” Adelaide pouted as Brixton undid her work. “You’re using magic.”
“And you don’t? Why are you in school to be an engineering wielder if you’re not using magic?”
“I like working with machinery,” Adelaide said. “I’m here because Rembrandt produces the best engineers in London. The fact that it’s a magical school does nothing for me.”
“Do you even have magic at all? I thought that was a requirement for coming here.”
“It is.” Adelaide went silent, and for the first time, Brixton saw her blush. With the small patch of red on her cheeks, he could just make out a light trail of freckles across her nose.
“Ouch.” He flinched as the suturing iron slipped across his fingers.
“Pay attention to what you’re doing. You don’t have to worry about my talent right now. All you need to know is that it’s not helping me fix this.” She crossed her arms and looked away.
“Right.” Brixton turned back to the item in front of him.
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C.S. Johnson is the award-winning, genre-hopping author of several novels, including young adult sci-fi and fantasy adventures such as the Starlight Chronicles, the Once Upon a Princess saga, and the Divine Space Pirates trilogy. With a gift for sarcasm and an apologetic heart, she currently lives in Atlanta with her family. Find out more at http://www.csjohnson.me
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