Fires of Invention (Mysteries of Cove #1) by J. Scott Savage

coveFires 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.

Secrets of Neverak (A Tale of Light and Shadow #1) by Jacob Gowans

neverakWhen I read the first book in this series, I was skeptical. It was described as a fantasy book, yet did not really seem to contain, much, if any, fantasy. Instead, it felt more like a love story set in some vaguely historical time period (no computers or technology but not located anywhere familiar). It turns out that the first–which was also an enjoyable read though it didn’t really feel like my genre–was more like set up for a much bigger, more fanastical follow up.

Secrets of Never really picked up in the areas where I felt the first book was lacking. The fantasy elements were real and tangible, but not overwhelming. We learn that there is a Seer who can predict possible futures and help manipulate events (as well as perform some unique spell craft, which we have only scratched the surface on), there are magical artifacts that can curse or provide gifts to people, and there is a type of magic called “The Path of Lyrial” that can be passed down via a type of blessing. There are ghosts and other haunting beings and supernatural creatures such as dragons.

The characters were given room to grow and develop into multi-dimensional characters. The most interesting thing about many of the main characters is that they are allowed to be flawed–Henry has too much pride and holds himself accountable for ever misstep whether or not he had anything to do with it, Maggie can be cruel and lash out when hurt and tends to be critical and judge harshly, James is afraid to open up to people because of a heart break in his past that has left him distant and cold, and Ruther is addicted to gambling and drinking which often gets him into trouble. Isabelle, who spent much of book one unconscious, finally gets her own storyline where we can see her strength of character and resourcefulness and understand why Henry loves her so much. While I would like to see her be more multi-dimensional like the others (of all the characters she is the only one who is too perfect and has no identifiable character flaws as yet), it was nice to finally get to know her. Even the evil emperor and his general have distinct characters quirks that bring them to life.

As the story progresses, it is clear that there is a much bigger picture than any of the involved characters realize. They have unwittingly been drawn into the midst of a battle that goes beyond two kingdoms fighting for power and of which we have only seen the smallest inklings so far. This series has a lot more to give and if book 2 is any indication, book 3 will be even better.