Fires of Invention reminded me a lot of City of Ember, one of the earlier dystopian novels I read when I started my general binging of all things middle grade and YA. The two share many things in common—a city built underground, supplies dwindling, strict rules, and a history that turns may not be quite accurate. Cove is a city where tradition and “the way things have always been done” is more important than creativity and innovation. Calling someone an inventor is the worst insult you can give. It is better to stick with tradition than create something new, no matter how helpful it is or how many people’s lives it might save.
The hero of the story is Trenton, a boy whose mind is full of inventions. When he sees a machine, he can tell almost instantly how it works and how to make it better. Despite his efforts to bury these instincts deep, he cannot help but create things. One day he is sent into a narrow mining shaft where the mining belt is broken, he discovers an illegal screwdriver that sets him on a path of discovery.
The screwdriver, he learns, was that of Leo Babbage, the most infamous inventor of Cove, who is said to have killed a bunch of people, and himself, when one of his inventions backfired and exploded. It is more than a screwdriver though. It is a clue to something much bigger. With the help of Babbage’s daughter, Kallista, Trenton follows the clues, which leads him to several major discoveries that could change his life and all of Cove, forever.
One of the strengths of Cove is the way it delves into relationships. Trenton’s mother, who was injured in a mining accident, is overprotective and distant. She loves him, but doesn’t understand him. His father, on the other hand, is loving and supportive, relating to Trenton’s creativity in ways Trenton can’t even imagine. Simoni, his long-time crush, forces Trenton to examine what he wants out of a relationship. And Kallista is driven, outspoken, and angry; with her help, Trenton learns to question everything he has always believed.
I’m excited to see where book two takes Trenton, though given where this book ended, it is hard to imagine it being anything like the first.